Gaseous ovines gone in hours; rabies outbreak still killing after seven years
DENPASAR, Bali, Indonesia––An animal welfare issue in Bali made global headlines on November 4, 2015, but it wasn’t the ongoing mishandling of a canine rabies outbreak by the Made Mangku Pastika gubernatorial regime that has frustrated control efforts since 2008, at cost of at least 160 human lives.
The rabies outbreak, unhappily, has become old news, as Pastika and his political allies have repeatedly undercut vaccination campaigns, cultivating mistrust among foreign donors while apparently pleasing only the for-profit dogcatchers who supply Bali’s growing dog meat restaurant trade and dogfighting industries.
Set off alarm
Rather, the November 4, 2015 excitement was because, headlined Maria Khan of the International Business Times, “Goat farts set off smoke alarm, force plane to make emergency landing.”
Summarized Khan, “A Singapore airlines cargo flight heading from Australia to Kuala Lumpur was forced to make an emergency landing in Bali after 2,186 sheep on board [not goats] set off the smoke alarm on 26 October. After emergency services could not detect any smoke, it was believed that the alarm must have been set off by exhaust gases and manure from the sheep on board.”
This theory, however, was not confirmed by Singapore Airlines personnel.
Flight SQ-7108 resumed the trip to Kuala Lumpur after two and a half hours on the ground.
Meanwhile, the same day, Bali Animal Welfare Association volunteers scrambled as they do almost every day to keep dogcatchers from variously poisoning vaccinated dogs, hauling dogs to dog meat restaurants, or taking them for use as “bait dogs” by dogfighters.
As recently as mid-2008, when the first Bali rabies outbreak in more than 30 years began, the dog meat industry appeared to consist of just a handful of small restaurants along the northeast coast of the island that catered mainly to visiting police and military personnel.
Today the dog meat trade has reportedly expanded to all parts of Bali that cater to visitors from southern China, South Korea, and other places where dogs are commonly eaten: about 45,000 of the estimated three million visitors to Bali per year.
Indeed, Bali appears to be the only part of the world where more dogs are eaten today than 15-20 years ago. Exempted may be only the few majority Muslim communities where keeping dogs for any reason tends to be culturally discouraged.
Simultaneously, dogfighting––unheard of in 2008––has emerged to distantly rival cockfighting as a Bali blood sport. While importing dogs has been prohibited since the beginning of the rabies outbreak, pit bulls somehow arrived, and have proliferated from seldom if ever seen to ubiquitous among the criminal elements––even as the numbers of distinctively marked native Bali dogs have declined, both through nonprofit sterilization efforts and frequent culling.
Taiwanese tourist bitten
Pressure on the traditionally free-roaming Bali dog population increased in after a 31-year-old female visitor from Taiwan was bitten by rabid dogs at the Tanah Lot temple on October 11, 2015, “resulting in wounds to her left calf and ankle that required 30 stitches to close,” reported Focus Taiwan.
After receiving “a tetanus shot, a fast-acting rabies immunoglobulin and the first of a series of rabies vaccines, as well as antibiotic shots and oral medicines while in Bali,” Focus Taiwan reported, the victim returned to Taiwan for additional treatment on October 16, 2015.
Added Focus Taiwan, “There are an estimated 500 000 stray dogs in Bali, but only half of them have been vaccinated against rabies.”
In actuality the most recent Bali dog census, done in 2011, found barely 300,000 dogs altogether, including owned pets as well as street dogs.
More than 300 000 dogs were subsequently vaccinated against rabies in campaigns led by the Bali Animal Welfare Association, with several other organizations participating.
This should have eliminated rabies, and very nearly did, with only one human death in 2013 and two in 2014, but then the Bali government took administration of the vaccination program away from the Bali Animal Welfare Association with catastrophic consequences.
17,000 bites in six months
“More than 17,000 people were bitten by dogs in Bali in the first six months of 2015, and 12 of them died,” Focus Taiwan continued. “The problem has been compounded by a shortage of the human rabies vaccines in major tourist areas in Bali for months.”
Mourned Bali Animal Welfare Association founder Janice Girardi, “We came so close to winning the battle against the disease. But the vital herd immunity that we worked so hard to achieve through mass vaccination was lost when mass and indiscriminate culling was reinstated. Now rabies is epidemic in all of Bali’s regencies.”
Editorialized Bali Discovery, “It is now clear that Bali has failed to meet its own goal of making the island rabies-free by 2015.”
But the failure played into the Pastika regime narrative of needing to kill more dogs, instead of emphasizing saturation vaccination, as recommended by every major international agency involved in anti-rabies campaigns.
Continued Bali Discovery, “The Bali Post recently conducted an island-wide opinion survey in which respondents were asked if they felt the government was failing to take firm steps in combating rabies. The results showed that 78.8% of those responding saw the government as weak in taking steps to control the epidemic. According to The Bali Post, respondents expressed their disappointment with programs to eliminate stray dogs, accusing bureaucrats of being more concerned with administrative niceties than in saving lives.
“Bali’s leading newspaper in its page one coverage of the survey also pointed to the ineffective distribution of [post-exposure vaccines] for those bitten by dogs as demonstrating the lack of both strategies and priorities on the part of the government in trying to reduce the number of fatalities resulting from dog bites by rabid dogs.”
While the Pastika regime responded yet again with a futile show of force, Bali Discovery observed, “Experts are concerned not only by the panic culling, but the departure from the strategy proven to eliminate rabies. Bali government teams are responding with mass vaccination of dogs, but in some areas they are also poisoning scores at a time with strychnine darts. Photos on social media show some of the dogs left dead in the streets have collars, indicating they are vaccinated pets.”
Affirmed James McGrane, the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization representative to Indonesia, “It is of concern to us that the vaccination strategy has not been carried out as effectively in 2014 as it was in previous years, in order to boost herd immunity to the level needed to cut transmission.”
Pastika asked public to kill dogs
Complaining about the cost of vaccinating dogs, Bali governor Pastika in January 2015 appealed to the public to kill free-roaming dogs on sight. Pastika had issued similar appeals in November 2008 and June 2014.
Aggressively culling dogs, however, was the very tactic that caused the rabies outbreak to explode out of control in the first place.
Rabies when Pastika first urged mass dog killing had killed four Bali residents, all of them from Ungasan village, where about 170 families live on a peninsula forming the southernmost part of Bali.
Separated from the rest of Bali by a narrow causeway skirting the Denpasar International Airport, the rabies outbreak could have been isolated by prohibiting commerce in dogs and practicing intensive ring vaccination.
Encouraged dog meat dealers
Instead the Pastika administration tacitly encouraged the dog meat restauranteurs from the north side of Bali to collect Ungasan dogs for the pot––far more than could be immediately eaten. Translocating and holding infected dogs soon contributed to spreading rabies throughout Bali.
Practicing only selective vaccination, culling as many as 150,000 dogs, Bali authorities under Pastika until mid-2009 actually prohibited vaccinating dogs outside of areas with active rabies cases, in the mistaken belief that the vaccines could spread rabies instead of preventing it.
This notion turned out to have been derived from the advice in a 1926-vintage Dutch manual on rabies control which described the risks of using vaccines made through the use of live rabies virus––a method abandoned in most of the world decades ago.