BALI, Indonesia––Dog-eating and dogfighting have reportedly exploded on Bali, corruption involving dog management policies is as flagrant as ever, and rabies––spread in part by the dog meat traffic––has reappeared after several years of suppression.
The multi-dimensional Bali dog crisis raised global outrage on April 16, 2014, after personnel at the Bali Agricultural Quarantine Agency in Gilimanuk, Jembrana regency, were videotaped killing 31 allegedly smuggled purebred dogs, apparently with strychnine injections.
The dogs, two Persian cats, and several dozen exotic birds had presumably all been landed illegally at Gilimanuk, a small port city at the extreme western end of Bali, and were said to have come from Java in custody of a bus passenger. The cats and birds were returned to their legal owners after impoundment.
“If, when we confiscate animals, the owners can show us their legal documents within 24 hours, we return the animals,” Bali Agricultural Quarantine Agency monitoring and law enforcement division head Ida Bagus Eka Ludra told media. “But no one legally owned the dogs,” he continued. “We don’t want to take any risks because rabies has been epidemic on the island.”
The 31 dogs, officially valued at $4,372 U.S., reported included two pit bulls, two collies, two Pomeranians, and a husky.
ANIMALS 24-7 received information that officials involved in the seizure and killings initially sought $900 for the release of the nine most valuable dogs, then raised the price to $4,500, and killed the dogs when the money was not forthcoming.
BAWA exposes the dog meat trade
The Bali Animal Welfare Association on April 30, 2014 followed up international media notice of the pointless deaths of the 31 apparently healthy dogs by releasing the findings of a two-year undercover investigation of the island dog meat trade.
“Through undercover operations in all nine Bali regencies, BAWA has located and secured details of 70 dog meat warungs across the island and estimates there are 30 more,” BAWA personnel announced in Jakarta, the Indonesian national capitol.
BAWA claimed to have “complete information on 90% of the 70 warungs that it can pinpoint on the map.”
According to the BAWA findings, “Each Bali warung uses between ½ and seven dogs a day. From a 15-kilogram dog, a warung can make around 40 portions of soup or satay,” which sell for about $1.75 per portion, including rice.
“Eighty percent of people who eat dog meat in the northern Bali regency of Buleleng,” the traditional hub of dog-eating in Bali, “are Balinese,” BAWA reported. “Many customers in Buleleng are police and military––it’s hard to get laws enforced! 45% of the dogs destined for dog meat are sold to traders; 5% are given by owners in exchange for rice, chilies, baskets and so on.”
About half of the dogs killed for meat “are stolen from the streets and from houses,” BAWA said. Also, BAWA estimated, half of the warungs in Bali “are supplied with dogs from other regencies,” even though “moving dogs across Bali regency borders is illegal.”
The BAWA investigators alleged that about 70% of the dogs killed for meat are hanged and then butchered alive, while 25% are poisoned, a procedure rarely used anywhere else that dogs are commonly eaten because of the perceived risk to the eaters.
Some of the announced BAWA findings appeared to be questionable projections based on small sample sizes, and some contradicted information shared earlier with ANIMALS 24-7.
Shakiest was the BAWA claim that “95% of the dogs [to be eaten] are transported by motorbike; 5% are moved by bus,” which would mean no involvement of cars or trucks, despite the existence of photos purporting to show dogs being trucked to Buleleng to be eaten, and even though the volume dogs said to be moved would require a conspicuous number of motorbikes to be involved in what is at least nominally an illegal traffic.
The BAWA preliminary data, e-mailed in October 2012, linked the Bali dog meat trade in the north to restaurants favored by police and military personnel, but associated those in the more populated south with the growth of South Korean and Chinese tourism, and also with thrill-seeking European tourists, especially from France.
BAWA reported on April 30, 2014 that “50% of people who eat dog meat are native Balinese; and 50% are from other areas of Indonesia including Medan, Flores, Sumatra, and Manado.”
Most dubious of all, in view that the total Bali dog population has been repeatedly estimated as just over 300,000, by a variety of international agencies, was the BAWA claim that about 100,000 dogs per year are eaten on the island. Other significant sources of dog mortality on Bali include poisoning in the name of rabies control, a visibly high volume of roadkill, and abandonments of unwanted newborn puppies to die from starvation and dehydration. In addition, some dogs are sacrificed, and some are used as “bait dogs” by dogfighters.
Allowing for other sources of mortality, and for the effects of dog sterilization programs conducted for more than 15 years by humane organizations including BAWA, the possibility of a sustained take-off of 100,000 dogs per year for human consumption would appear to be slight.
As of October 2012, BAWA projected about 50,000 to 60,000 dogs per year killed for human consumption, at restaurants averaging 16 to 20 seats.
If 100 dog meat restaurants average 20 seats each, and each seat is occupied by two diners per night every night of the year, with each dog serving 40 people, consumption of 36,500 dogs per year would be a plausible upper-end estimate. This would be sustainable from a mostly free-roaming island dog population of about 312,000.
“Dog meat is much cheaper then chicken,” BAWA founder Janice Girardi told ANIMALS 24-7 in October 2012, another surprising assertion in view that free-roaming chickens outnumber dogs in Bali by several dozen to one, even after several rounds of purges due to outbreaks of H5N1 avian flu, which have killed at least a few Balians in almost every year since 2005.
“People sell their dogs for $1.00 to $3.00 on average for a 12 to 16 kilo dog,” Girardi said, “but of course many are just taken from the streets, temple parking lots, school yards, etc. Chicken sells for $3 per kilo.”
Dog meat elsewhere in Asia is a high-priced speciality, consumed chiefly by affluent older men. Girardi argued that Bali consumers include women feeding their families. “Eighty-five percent of the dog meat buyers are women who are purchasing the meat as a cheap and tasty alternative to beef, etc.,” Girardi said.
Elsewhere in Asia women often are involved in preparing and serving dog meat, but dog meat restaurants are closely associated with prostitution––and any children at a dog meat restaurant would likely be child prostitutes.
UNICEF estimates that about 30% of the prostitutes in Indonesia are minors, with Bali one of the two major hot spots for the trade.
Dogfighting, also often associated with prostitution and the gangster elements who manage it, appears to have taken hold in Bali after the first H5N1 avian flu outbreaks brought desultory government efforts to suppress the transportation of gamefowl that is believed to be the major mechanism by which H5N1 moves among domestic birds. Even as Bali officials prohibited the import of dogs in the name of rabies control, dogfighters over the past five years have made the island the reputed hub of dogfighting and pit bull breeding in Indonesia.
BAWA has done public education against dogfighting since 2012, which is technically illegal, but the laws have long gone unenforced. As with dog-eating and prostitution, people well-connected in high places are believed to be involved.
Will not meet rabies-free by 2015 target
The Gilimanuk dog-smuggling incident came 10 days after the Bali Discovery Tours web site disclosed that “Bali will fail to meet its target of being rabies-free by 2015. While Bali managed to go for almost a year without a new case of rabies among its human population,” at least four recent human fatalities, two of them in Buleleng, North Bali, “mean the earliest that Bali can now be free of the disease is 2016,” Bali Discovery Tours said.
Rabies reappeared in Bali in mid-2008, after decades of no cases being reported. The first cases in 2008 were on the Bukit peninsula, connected to the rest of Bali only by a narrow causeway skirting the Denpassar International Airport. Had movements of dogs from the Bukit peninsula been stopped immediately, saturation vaccination of the dogs on the peninsula could have quelled the rabies outbreak within days or weeks.
Instead, the Bali government enforced a ban on the import of canine rabies vaccine dating to 1926, when vaccines made from live viruses could sometimes transmit rabies if not kept frozen, and allowed private dogcatchers to continue to trap and transport dogs from the Bukit peninsula and nearby parts of Bali to dog meat restaurants along the north coast.
In early 2009 the rabies outbreak spread to all Bali regencies, killing 147 people according to official figures, and perhaps more than 180 according to tallies of media reports of deaths, about 30 of which were not medically confirmed.
Beginning late in 2009, the Bali Animal Welfare Association was allowed to vaccinate more than 250,000 of the estimated 312,000 dogs on the island. BAWA funded the demonstration phase of the project, undertaken in Gianyar regency. The World Society for the Protection of Animals funded extending the vaccination program to the rest of Bali, except for Klungkung regency, which refused to participate.
“If you compare the last three months of the program to the year before, we reduced human and dog rabies by 80%,” Girardi told ANIMALS 24-7.
But then the vaccination program ran afoul of politics.
“My memorandum of understanding with WSPA said I must train government personnel and make them self-sufficient to run another two programs, needed for Bali to be 100% successful,” Girardi recalled. “The United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization came in April 2011 and took over working with the Bali provincial government. They did not have enough funds to have management on the ground, and insisted the program was working humanely and following the BAWA operational procedures,” despite the lack of close supervision. “It was not. Locals and the provincial government went back to killing dogs, often the same dogs we had just vaccinated.”
The FAO claimed to have vaccinated or re-vaccinated nearly 235,000 dogs. That should have been enough to maintain “herd immunity” along the Bali dog population, but was not.
The BAWA shelter and animal hospital were meanwhile closed by police on September 30, 2013 for allegedly operating without permits, apparently as result of complaints by private practice veterinarians who saw BAWA as competition.
Commented Asia Animal Protection Network moderator Lisa Warden via the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases ProMED-mail network. “The main shortcoming of anti-rabies efforts in Bali has been the failure to put a stop to dog culling, which has been widespread, and undertaken both by [official agencies] and private citizens. Herd immunity against rabies simply cannot be established in the free-roaming dog population in a climate of ongoing culls. And in a place like Bali, where the free-roaming dog population numbers in the hundreds of thousands, there is no shortcut to the diligence required to achieve 70% anti-rabies vaccine coverage.”
Agreed ProMED-mail infectious diseases moderator and Louisiana State University epidemiology professor emeritus Martin Hugh Jones, “Until Bali can get their canine vaccination act together, human rabies is going to continue to take a tragic and unnecessary toll.”
(See also “Perilous pathogens & pathological PR: the rabies war in Bali,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-md; “Bali animal welfare societies battle rabies outbreak,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-lz; “U.S. issues rabies advisory for Bali visitors as control effort stumbles,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-lv; “BAWA achieves Bali rabies turnaround,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-lB; and “Political foes close Bali Animal Welfare Association,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-lD.)