Governor repeats mistake that touched off an island-wide rabies outbreak
DENPASAR, Bali, Indonesia––If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly, each time expecting a different result, Bali governor Made Mangku Pastika on June 26, 2014 fitted himself for a strait jacket.
Disregarding four years of steady progress toward quelling a canine rabies outbreak that began in mid-2008, Pastika repeated the same general invitation to to cull dogs that sent the rabies outbreak into overdrive in the first place––this time ordering the massacre of about 300,000 healthy vaccinated and mostly docile neighborhood dogs, allowing unvaccinated and largely nocturnal feral dogs to reoccupy the habitat and breed up to the carrying capacity.
“If any stray dogs are found, feel free to eliminate them. It has been stipulated in the 2009 bylaw on the prevention of rabies that dog owners have to confine their pets at home,” Pastika said, according to Ni Komang Erviani of the Jakarta Post.
“There is no need to catch them, put them in a shelter or something. Just cull them, Pastika continued. “It is the dog owners’ fault for letting their dogs stray. If any dog owners protest, just show them the bylaw. It is their fault. They should keep their dogs at home.”
Reported Dogstop founder and Asian Animal Protection Network moderator Lisa Warden on June 27, 2014, “Footage has already been aired on local TV in Bali showing animal husbandry department workers killing dogs with strychnine in the Gianyar market. If the animal husbandry department can inject hundreds of thousands of dogs with strychnine,” Warden asked, “why can they not inject those same dogs with anti-rabies vaccine instead? This move defies logic, since vaccinating the dogs would work to eradicate rabies, but killing them will not. The mass cull will simply temporarily vacate a habitat that will soon fill with fresh litters from the dogs they didn’t manage to kill.
“In April 2013,” Warden recalled, “the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization granted this same governor an award to recognize ‘the impressive investment and excellent progress made in Bali on the control of rabies, both in humans and in dogs.’” In Pastika’s acceptance speech, it was stated that ‘Specifically, the movement away from dog elimination and towards dog vaccination was the essential change in 2010 that enabled such amazing progress to be achieved. Instead of being seen as the enemy, animal and human health officers have realized that vaccinated dogs, especially street dogs, are our comrades in the fight against rabies. Every time a dog is vaccinated, they are recruited into a virtual ‘army against rabies’, and work every day of their lives to protect their banjars from the horrible rabies virus.’”
For a few years, at least, before shattering the illusion in 2014, Pastika appeared to have learned something from his catastrophic past mistakes.
Said Pastika on November 29, 2008, also according to Ni Komang Erviani of the Jakarta Post, “Residents can just go ahead by taking the initiative to kill stray dogs. If the mass dog culling relied only on government officials, it would take too long.”
Rabies at that time 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 easily have been isolated by prohibiting commerce in dogs and practicing intensive ring vaccination.
Instead the Pastika administration tacitly encouraged 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 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.
Officially, 28 Bali residents died from rabies in 2009, and 82 in 2010, mostly early in the year, as Pastika and regional governors repeatedly escalated efforts to shoot and poison dogs in futile efforts to stop rabies by killing the vector species.
This strategy had been recognized as futile by every leading international organization involved in rabies control for more than 40 years, but Pastika and his veterinary advisors pointedly ignored the advice of ProMED, the World Health Organization, the National Association of Public Health Veterinarians, the National Animal Control Association, the Animal Welfare Board of India, the European Union, the Royal SPCA, Humane Society International, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals, among other agencies whose advice was faxed, e-mailed, or hand-delivered to Pastika’s office within days of the rabies outbreak coming to global notice in 2008.
Unofficially, the Bali rabies death toll soared half again higher, as deaths in remote villages were reported by local media but not recorded in government hospitals.
Finally winning permission to vaccinate dogs in Gianyar regency, one of the most densely populated parts of Bali, the Bali Animal Welfare Association in 2009-2010 demonstrated the efficacy of vaccinating instead of killing, inoculating 48,000 dogs in six months. A similar pilot program followed in Bangli regency. After vaccinating 28,000 dogs in 10 weeks in Bangli, BAWA was allowed to vaccinate dogs in six of the remaining eight regencies.
Vaccinating 210,000 dogs in six months, from October 2010 through March 2011, BAWA achieved an immediate 48% reduction in human rabies deaths and a 45% decrease in dog rabies cases. This was the fastest containment of a rabies outbreak in the history of Indonesia, achieved even as a 13-year-old outbreak continued, and continues still, in Flores, where officials have fought rabies mainly by culling dogs.
During the six-month vaccination sweep, BAWA established by counting dogs from house to house in every village that the Bali dog population is “just over 300,000 dogs, about 1 dog to 12.5 people,” founder Janice Girardi said.
“With funding from WSPA, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Australian government,” recalled Girardi, “dogs were vaccinated in all regencies except Klungkung, which refused to participate, even though epidemiologists advised that leaving even one unvaccinated region would prevent island-wide rabies eradication. In the last months of the program, a 78% reduction in rabies in humans and in dogs was achieved, compared to the same period the previous year.”
Human rabies deaths dropped to eight in 2012, one in 2013, and one in 2014.
The BAWA clinic, however, was closed by police on September 30, 2013 for allegedly operating without permits, after local political transitions increased the influence of office holders who had favored killing street dogs to combat rabies, and appeared to have used killing street dogs as a pretext for doling out patronage jobs to goondas.
BAWA had also clashed with well-connected dogfighters and the operators of dog meat restaurants––technically illegal, but ignored and even patronized by Bali officials.
Said the Bali Advertiser, “The real story behind the precipitate action by Bali’s authorities to close down BAWA will probably never be known. The only people who get pinged over license issues here are those who have trodden on some bigwig’s ego.”
Added Bali Discovery, published by Bali Discovery Tours, “Many have claimed that the very strict enforcement steps taken against BAWA were selective and discriminatory, taken in perceived retaliation for BAWA’s spirited and outspoken promotion of rabies prevention and animal rights.”