In Party Mood as People Die

Bali is winning its battle against rabies and those involved in the eradication campaign are “celebrating,” they told us this week. We don’t need to worry that around 130 people have been killed by the virus because by next year the island will be free of rabies, we were told.

A press release issued by the London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) on behalf of itself, the Bali authorities and the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) – an animal shelter in Ubud leading a dog-vaccination scheme – was so brimming with good news about Bali’s rabies crisis that the human death toll was not even mentioned.

We were told there has been an almost 50-percent drop in the numbers of human and animal cases in the last 12 months, due to the immunisation of Bali’s extreme number of stray dogs. To date 210,000 dogs in 4,126 villages, the release said, have been inoculated – 70 percent of the canine population and a threshold believed sufficient to stop rabies.

This happy trio said they were therefore “celebrating an important milestone in Bali’s historic campaign to eradicate rabies.”

Is anyone else?

If nothing else the choice of language and heady mood of the animal activists is an affront to the grieving families around the island.

The dog-jab project was launched last September following pressure from the activists over the government’s previous method of wiping out rabies, which was detected in the southernmost Bukit area of Bali in late 2008. Upset at images of piled-up dead dogs, the animal lovers convinced Bali’s government that vaccination was a better way to wipe out rabies than removing the strays – the principal rabies-virus reservoir – from the streets. Foreign money backed the activists’ stance and the cash-strapped government caved in. It was wrong to do so.

We fully support the welfare of all animals. But when people are dying because animal populations have exploded and are out of control to the extreme, we have to draw a line. Stray dogs need to be managed; they must be kept in the yards of homes. The rabies-eradication model proposed by BAWA and their backers will not work in Bali: there are just too many wandering dogs for which no one is prepared to take responsibility. Their vast numbers and evidence on the ground belies the purported success of the current experiment. The stray population must be drastically reduced, not only because of rabies but also because of other hazards, including to motorists.

The WSPA’s campaigns director, Ray Mitchell, said of progress to date: “This is a real achievement in the fight against rabies in Bali, and one that proves that a humane approach to rabies control works to benefit both human health and animal welfare.”

So far in our battle against rabies one chief element has tragically been missing: sense.

Filed under: Editorial

3 Responses to “In Party Mood as People Die”

  1. Steven Says:

    I would like to highly commend the Balinese Government, the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA), and WSPA for approaching this rabies epidemic with enough composure and foresight to simply not rush into a public display of mass culling (which has been internationally proven to be ineffective when combatting a wide spread rabies epidemic), but rather to have the integrity to consider the long term welfare of it’s residents, economy and environment.

    I encourage any individual worried about the educated approach the Balinese Government and it’s associated NGO’s have taken regarding the rabies epidemic to spend 5 minutes visiting the World Health Organisation’s website and read at least one of the many scientifically endorsed reports on the topic. From over 80 countries worldwide these reports clearly state that vaccinations programs have been proven time and time again to be the most effect answer to eradicating rabies.

  2. Sam Says:

    Dilemma: how to report that there has been an ‘an almost 50-percent drop in the numbers of human and animal cases in the last 12 months’ without admitting that the vaccinations are working?

    Solution: pretend that no one but you cares about our fellows who have died from rabies.

    You are starting to look very silly!

  3. Castaway Says:

    Interesting… A very polarised debate by the looks of things. I wonder is there a balanced position that works for both parties?

    1. Culling – clearly not popular with animal rights activists. My question however is, if these stray, apparently uncared for animals are undernourished, suffering from severe skin conditions, parasites, and often at risk from severe injury in traffic, what is ‘humane’ about keeping them alive in such a state?

    2. Vaccination – achieving a suitable inoculation rate appears to be a good way to go.

    Can the two approaches not be combined to reduce the currently unmanageable numbers of stray and feral animals to more manageable numbers, which would also assist in reaching the required critical mass of inoculation percentage?

    I also note, that should the numbers of feral and stray animals be reduced on the streets of Bali, there may be significantly more success by animal rights organisations in finding homes for stray dogs, in the years to come.

    There is also a need to find resources to work on community education programs for Balinese people, relating to the necessity to have pets sterilised. Where are the resources to sterilise pets (let alone strays) being diverted at the moment?

    Finally, there also needs to be some consideration of how these problems will be managed longer term. Where are the resources to train the required Balinese veterinarians who will be central to a long term stray dog management strategy, performing sterilisation of stray animals in the future, to assist in population control?

    Unless there is some real engagement with the local Balinese people about how these problems emerge, grow, and become critical (ie result in human deaths), there will be little improvement in the situation in future, and Balinese families, who can rarely afford a rabies vaccination, will continue to be devastated by rabies deaths.

    However, Balinese people also need to acknowledge ( perhaps first educated about) their responsibilities in managing stray animals, if rabies is to be eradicated from the island.

    How many of the current numbers claimed by this epidemic are foreigners, who presumably just didn’t bother to get their travel vaccinations?

    Yes the dogs of Bali have rights, but are these greater than the rights of Balinese people to live a healthy life?

    In the end, where is the money to manage this problem strategically going to come from?

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