GIANYAR, Bali, Indonesia––The Bali Animal Welfare Association on July 3, 2014 claimed a small victory for vaccinating dogs against rabies and educating the public in Singapadu Tengah village, Gianyar regency, Bali.
Responding to a June 26, 2014 directive from Bali governor Made Mangku Pastika, public officials “were scheduled to eliminate stray dogs in the village on June 30,” BAWA posted to Facebook.
The extermination plan was already in effect three days before Pastika spoke. Community leaders were on June 23, 2014 sent an “Elimination Schedule for Wild Dogs” by the Technical Implementation Unit of District Livestock Office in Sukawati, BAWA said. Villagers were advised to keep their dogs confined, as any loose dogs would be killed.
“BAWA worked in the banjars for days prior to the scheduled elimination to ensure village dogs were safe,” the BAWA posting recounted. When animal husbandry officers arrived on June 30, there were few stray dogs and the villagers were not welcoming. In response, the officers offered to vaccinate rather than eliminate any dogs they netted.
“We give these officers credit for correctly assessing the situation and adjusting their tactics accordingly,” BAWA said. “Nevertheless, we are told that all regency animal husbandry offices have been advised that it is now okay to kill stray dogs.”
Especially damaging to efforts to eradicate rabies in Bali, BAWA noted, is that “Often, eliminations are done during scheduled anti-rabies vaccination activities.” This produces resistance to cooperation with the vaccination drives.
Reported Ni Komang Erviani of the Bali Daily on July 2, 2014, “The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has questioned the Bali administration’s policy to cull stray dogs.
Provincial animal husbandry agency head I Putu Sumantra told Bali Daily that he had been contacted by a FAO official from the Sri Lanka office. ‘They questioned and protested our policy of culling stray dogs,’ Sumantra said. Sumantra hesitated to give more details. However, he said that FAO had contacted him after reading about the new policy in several media, including The Jakarta Post.”
Sumantra argued, said Erviani, that “The administration had been forced into making the policy after attempts to reduce rabies had stalled.” But what Pastika did was to reinstate the culling policy he first instituted in November 2008, when a rabies outbreak was belatedly recognized, nearly four months after the first rabid bite occurred. The outbreak was then confined to the Ungasan peninsula, where it could have been isolated and quelled by prohibiting commerce in dogs and practicing intensive ring vaccination.
Instead the Pastika administration tacitly encouraged freelance dogcatchers who supplied dog meat restaurants on the north side of Bali to collect Ungasan dogs. Typically the dogs were transported across the island by motorcycle, then held for days or even weeks before being killed. Some escaped. Some bit people and other animals while confined. Within another few months rabies cases were occurring throughout Bali.
Only after BAWA was allowed to initiate high-volume dog vaccination did the numbers of cases and humane deaths begin to fall, from 82 acknowledged human deaths in 2010 to 23 in 2011, eight in 2012, and one each in 2013 and 2014.
Sumantra told Erviani that about 50 rabid dogs had been found during the first six months of 2014, but did not acknowledge that as many had been found per month at the height of the outbreak.
Wrote Erviani, “The uncontrolled population of stray dogs is allegedly leading to the increasing number of rabid dogs. The agency predicted that the stray dog population would increase from approximately 325,000 dogs last year, to around 450,000 to 500,000 stray dogs this year.”
Sumantra told Erviani that the Bali government hopes to vaccinate 325,000 dogs again rabies in 2014.
“But during the vaccination drive,” Sumantra claimed, “our team realized there were more than 450,000 dogs now, as many stray dogs have been breeding.”
The carrying capacity for dogs in Bali, human population about four million, would realistically be about 400,000 at peak. But high-volume culling means that the scavenged food formerly consumed by the dead dogs is available to puppies, ensuring that more litters are born and more puppies from each litter survive to maturity.
With culling accelerating mortality, it is quite possible that Bali––or anywhere that dogs roam freely and live mostly by foraging––could have far more puppy births per year than the actual dog population at any given time.
Meanwhile, a “rabies control” strategy that culls large numbers of dogs who have already been vaccinating and ensures continued high-volume reproduction is also a strategy that enables local politicians to keep goonda supporters on the public payroll, killing dogs, allegedly extorting bribes to spare pets, and demonstrating the grip of the parties in power.
Responsible for rabies control in Denpasar, the Bali capital city, Denpasar Veterinary Agency chief Ketut Diarmita lamented to Luh De Suriyani of the Jakarta Post, “The results of vaccination will be different on paper and in the field. On paper,” Diarmita said, “the vaccine may work effectively for about a year, but in the field, we found samples showing some dogs were only immune for six months.”
The most common reason for anti-rabies vaccines losing potency is failure to maintain cold storage prior to use, a constant problem in hot climates where electrical grids frequently fail, but Diarmita offered a different explanation.
“Dogs must receive the appropriate dosage,” Diarmita said, “but officers in the field often find it difficult to inject dogs,” who run, hide, and bite when they fear they may be killed. In consequence, Diarmita acknowledged, “many dogs were not being immunized.”
Countered BAWA, “The answer is, keep vaccinating dogs. Make it illegal to throw away litters and adult animals. Make each banjar [village] responsible for its own dogs and for ensuring every dog brought into or born in a banjar is vaccinated. Prohibit giving or selling dogs to the meat trade. Educate and vaccinate. Never eliminate.”
Commented Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases infectious disease moderator Martin Hugh Jones, “Clearly, lessons are going to be learned as the Balinese control and eradication program continues. We cannot but agree with the FAO in this matter, as stray dog elimination tactics merely antagonize the dog-owning population and render vaccination less effective without community support.”
(See also “Mad dogs and Bali governor Made Mangku Pastika,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-Au.)