Public Enemy No. 1

People overseas intending to travel to Bali for a holiday are now questioning whether it is safe to do so, given that the rabies crisis here has hit the headlines worldwide. One couple, from Europe, asked on this newspaper’s website: “Can anyone advise on how bad the situation there is as neither of us want to spend our holiday avoiding or being chased by rabid dogs?”

Other correspondents have spoken of being cornered by packs of street dogs while on holiday here and having to flee the area, ruining their holiday. Still others speak of the scourge of bands of strays that howl and bark incessantly, day and night, dangerously lunge at passing motorcyclists (sometimes with fatal consequences to the rider) and attack people walking past.

This is the scene of a tropical paradise upon which Bali’s main tourism industry relies? How have we reached this perilous juncture? The answer is starkly plain: Through inaction and by blithely allowing hundreds of thousands of stray dogs to roam free, multiply and kill people.

Foreign governments have warned their citizens of the rabies risk in Bali – Australia, Britain and the US. Overseas news stories and blogs suggest would-be holidaymakers should defer their trips to Bali until the situation has been effectively resolved.

With nearly 80 people dead from rabies since it broke out in southern Bali almost two years ago and alarmingly soaring numbers of people reporting bites from the island’s battalions of stray dogs, what we are witnessing now is what we feared from the onset: an all-out emergency that is starting to spiral and cause economic calamity to Bali.

It is ironic that just as Bali is getting intense, positive global press over Julie Roberts’ newly released movie, Eat, Pray, Love, it is getting intense, negative global press over rabies.

Yet we hear a constant clamour from animal rights activists telling us we should leave the dogs alone, just vaccinate them all and hope for the best. They point to past situations in our neighbouring islands of Lombok, Sumbawa and Flores, where culls of stray dogs have not wiped out the deadly virus.

Bali is none of these places. It is not a sparsely populated island with little in the way of a multi-tiered tourism industry. Bali is a densely populated island of over 3 million people and nearly that amount again of foreign visitors each year (many more with domestic tourists factored in). In Bali’s circumstances, promoting a laissez-faire policy towards dealing with rabies – as in waiting around until each stray is vaccinated, an almost impossible task, and the virus dries up – is reckless beyond belief.

And we question, as do many of our readers who write to us, just why such animal groups place more value on the life of a dog than that of a human.

Bali’s stray dog population must be savagely reduced, and fully effective anti-rabies measures put in place (and kept in place), before we can hope to win the battle against this horrible and invariably fatal disease.

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