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.