by Lisa Warden, director, DOGSTOP
Re “Dog-eating, dogfighting, & corruption feed recurring rabies outbreaks in Bali,” posted by ANIMALS 24-7 on May 1, 2014, the ongoing experience in Bali provides an excellent case study in trial and error, at the cost of human and animal lives.
The main shortcoming in the program since the FAO took over anti-rabies efforts in Bali, in partnership with local authorities, has been the failure to put a stop to dog culling, which has been widespread, and has been undertaken both by the FAO’s local government partners and private citizens. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 dogs have been killed since the rabies outbreak hit the island in 2008. Herd immunity against rabies simply cannot be established in the free-roaming dog population in a climate of ongoing culls. Vaccinated dogs are the key ally in the battle against the killer virus, and in Bali, tens of thousands of these valuable allies have been killed, and vaccinated dogs continue to be culled in the scattershot carnage.
The United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization on April 15, 2014 claimed success in the campaign against rabies in Bali (http://www.fao.org/in-action/bali-serves-as-a-model-for-control-of-rabies/en/), but contrary to what the markedly revisionist promotional video accompanying the FAO report claims, Bali’s core strategy for fighting rabies––in practice at least––does not embody the “twin principles of One Health and the large-scale vaccination of dogs.”
In practice, the modus operandi consists of inadequate vaccination numbers, questionable reporting by local officials and continued killing of dogs by inhumane means. Add to this the thriving dog meat trade and dogfighting industry, both of which depend upon the illegal transport of dogs across district lines––and both to which authorities turn a blind eye––and you have a recipe for prolonging the epidemic.
That what is in effect a rogue, ill-advised approach on the ground is glossed over with polished public relations. International awards presented to the Balinese government by the World Health Organization and the FAO in 2013 extolled the purported model and “humane” rabies control efforts, setting an insidious precedent in which local authorities pay lip service to the model while in effect doing as they please.
As vaccination and rabies elimination targets remain unreached and human and animal deaths continue, the ineffective and deadly shortcut of culling is resumed, often covertly. That this insidious strategy is then propagated as an approach to be exported to other regions is troubling.
One recent case in point of slipshod implementation was the killing of 25 dogs by authorities in Karangasem district after a man was bitten by a rabid dog there on March 13, 2014. The dog in question died that same day. Samples sent for analysis came back positive for rabies. The man began post-exposure shots. A trip to the area soon after the cull revealed that many of the remaining local dogs were not wearing the yellow collars that dogs are given after being vaccinated. A man in the area died after he was attacked by his pig. Neither the pig nor the deceased was tested for rabies. Dogs have also been culled recently in Buleleng and Tabanan.
The standard approach in many districts, and this is what is not acknowledged by the international organizations, is to kill any dogs found roaming free, whether previously vaccinated or not, in response to a positive rabies case in a given area. For example, reports of rabid dogs in Karengasem and Tabanan districts were confirmed this month by Horticulture Department head Ni Ketut Warsiki (http://baliadvertiser.biz/articles/news/2014/april_16.html.) Warsiki went on record to say that area culling would be done, and that all stray (free-roaming) dogs would be destroyed.
Additionally, it is highly disturbing, since dog culling is at least as much part of the government’s “core strategy” as vaccination, that government authorities continue to use poison to cull dogs, instead of abiding by humane euthanasia protocols, including in the case that ANIMALS 24-7 described in which 31 dogs were killed after being smuggled into Bali. The killing was videotaped and the footage posted online:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWoAUEe19-4.
In this case, the agent was administered by intra-muscular injection. Strychnine baits are often used to kill street dogs, resulting in an excruciating death for the victims, as evidenced here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw5t3Z7oZJo.
If the FAO and the WHO are going to support and extol the efforts of Balinese officials to combat rabies, and if their international animal welfare NGO partners insist on lauding the program as humane, then can the international bodies not insist, at the very least, that the culling be undertaken using methods consistent with accepted standards of humane euthanasia?
This would of course require admission that culling is indeed occurring as part of the rabies control program.
Further, any effective, holistic rabies control strategy would have to address Bali’s booming and barbaric dog fighting and dog meat industries, thus far opposed only by a coalition of local animal welfare groups, while going entirely unchallenged by the FAO, WHO and their international animal welfare partners.
The theoretical model for eradicating rabies in Bali (which did not in fact originate with the FAO) is sound. The human health department is doing an excellent job of stocking post-exposure shots island-wide, and the local emergency response teams function well.
The problem is that the crucial aspect of the model that pertains to the canine rabies vector has been neither adequately nor faithfully implemented since the takeover of the program by the FAO and the Government of Indonesia.
Presumably the victory declaration by the FAO, premature though it was, was a prerequisite for expanding the program to other rabies-endemic regions of Indonesia and beyond. The FAO communiqué states that the elements of the Bali model are to form the “Master Plan for Rabies Control” for the whole country, to be implemented in the other Indonesian provinces affected by rabies.
“In addition, the strategy is now being adopted by several other countries in Asia,” the FAO announced, “and is expected to make a considerable contribution to rabies control policy in Southeast Asia and the ASEAN Road Map for Rabies Control by 2020.”
These are grand plans, but before the rabies junta gets blinded by its own spin, let’s be frank about what’s really going on in Bali and why rabies has not been eradicated on the island. The mistakes and shortcomings of the Bali experience must be acknowledged prior to a genuine declaration of victory, and certainly these must be rectified before repeating the same mistakes elsewhere.
[DOGSTOP is a non-profit advisory group doing investigations and advocacy in support of humane street dog population management and rabies eradication in Asia.]