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Bali’s dogs at risk again

Nov 2, 2009

An official of Bali's Department of Animal Husbandry drags away the body of a dog, killed using strychnine

A recent outbreak of rabies on this otherwise idyllic island has seen government authorities rush headlong into a mass elimination program – except they’re focused on eliminating dogs, not rabies.

Although the government claims to have vaccinated 70,000 dogs, they have also reportedly killed around 20,000 – some of which are known to have been recently vaccinated. WSPA has been working with member society the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) to fight this.

The current situation

WSPA is now in Bali, joining local veterinarians and government officials in lobbying the authorities and asking intergovernmental organizations to support our call for a sustained mass dog vaccination program to eradicate rabies – for good. 

In just one week, our staff have already witnessed culling in two villages. We have seen local government officials lure dogs with strychnine-laced meat, or fire strychnine darts with blow pipes. 

In both cases, the strychnine dosage paralyzed the dogs almost instantly. They suffered massive convulsions for several minutes before succumbing to a horrific death.

Culling: not the answer

A year ago, in response to a few reported rabies cases, Bali’s Governor ordered a mass cull intended to ‘eliminate rabies’ from the island.
This was despite being made aware of international case studies proving that culling is ineffectual in preventing the spread of the virus and the fact that the World Health Organization supports mass dog vaccination as the best public health response to rabies.
Over 35,000 WSPA supporters took part in our online campaign (now closed), asking the Governor to put an end to this cruel response. The cull did stop, but only temporarily.

Renewed ‘fight’ against rabies

In October, WSPA received an urgent request for further help from BAWA, which runs several welfare programs in Bali – population management, education, a veterinary and adoption clinic, an animal ambulance, and most recently, a rabies vaccination campaign hoping to prevent perfectly healthy dogs from being killed simply because they are ‘roaming’.

BAWA and WSPA are part of the Bali Rabies Forum, a coalition of animal welfare groups that has developed a series of recommendations to effectively control the spread of rabies through a sustained vaccination program that would strike at the very root of the problem.

But at the first signs of another outbreak, the government has shown utter disregard for the evidence showing vaccination best halts the spread of rabies, and restarted the culling.

WSPA staff on the island, working with the Forum, are currently trying to reach authorities at the highest levels possible, presenting evidence from around the world  – including from Flores, also in Indonesia – to prove that culling does not eliminate rabies.

Lack of balance misleads public

Pak Ineng, village headman, plays with a dog that he considers a pet, despite its roaming lifestyle

Bali press carries almost daily stories about the ‘war against rabies’ – spelling out in macabre detail the number of dogs killed, accompanied by gruesome pictures of carcasses.

Hardly any reference is made to fact that culling has failed to control the spread of rabies in many locations.

In our conversations with Balinese people, WSPA has discovered a minority do support the culling program, but only because they presume that there is no other way to protect themselves against rabies.

When told about the success rates of well-managed vaccination programs, their stance changes – “Without the threat of rabies, of course we would want our dogs to live!”

Bali cares for its dogs

Ignoring modern evidence, the Balinese government is following a Dutch law dating from 1926, that recommends culling all ‘outside’ dogs (meaning any dogs that are not caged, chained or confined) as a means to control rabies.

But confined dogs are not the only ‘owned’ dogs in Bali.

Pak Ineng (pictured) is the Klian Banjar (village headman) of Darmasaba in Padung residency. He has one pedigree pet dog, but cares for at least three other dogs that roam the streets in front of his home.

He says many village dogs are routinely fed and cared for and describes how villagers brought two or three street dogs each to a vaccination camp held earlier this year. 

“They may not be in cages or on a leash, but these dogs are looked after. These dogs are ours,” he says.

Read about a successful and humane response to rabies in Nepal >>

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