Several animal protection groups, ecologists and veterinary specialists yesterday said rabies prevention measures employed by the government were seriously flawed.
Unsatisfied with how the central government is dealing with rabies, they pointed out several problems such as the inability to control the rampant smuggling of animals and lack of standard operating procedure (SOP) for local governments to deal with wild or stray animals. The groups and experts then suggested better methods to prevent ecological damage while conducting disease control measures.
Environmental and Animal Society Taiwan (EAST) director Chen Yu-min (陳玉敏) said that after the disease was first discovered in June, the Central Epidemic Command Center for rabies was set up this month, but it lacks effective comprehensive measures and a SOP to instruct related local agencies.
Citing recent examples of a county cleaning squad that announced it would give people rice in exchange for captured stray dogs, some county governments providing poisonous bait to get rid of rats, or reports of wild animals killed by people for fear that they carried the deadly virus, Chen urged the central government to come up with an effective SOP as soon as possible.
“The nation’s pet control management is hugely flawed, because the Council of Agriculture only requires that pet dogs be registered, while other pet species are neglected. Furthermore, the registration rate of dogs is only about 30 percent at present,” she said.
Moreover, the numbers of both pets and stray animals are suspected to be underestimated, she said.
“A research project commissioned by the council estimated that there were 1.2 million pet dogs, 280,000 pet cats, and about 80,000 stray dogs in Taiwan in 2009. Statistics show that less than 26 percent of pet dogs were vaccinated against rabies that year, but more than 110,000 stray dogs are captured and sheltered each year — showing that the government’s estimations may be incorrect,” she added.
Yeh Lih-seng (葉力森), a professor of veterinary medicine at National Taiwan University, said that as rabies had not been detected in the nation for more than 50 years, the government should take the situation more seriously and conduct related research or disease prevention at a much faster pace, because Taiwan has a higher risk of rabies outbreaks than some other countries.
At present, there is no effective policy to ensure that dogs in mountainous areas are vaccinated, which is a serious problem that needs to be solved, he said, adding that the council should re-evaluate the possibility of administering oral vaccines in mountainous areas for wild and stray animals.
Raptor Research Group of Taiwan member Lin Si-min (林思民) said distributing poisonous bait to kill rats may seem effective, but while rats reproduce very quickly and they repopulate rapidly, raptors such as eagles and owls that feed on rats may also be killed. Their numbers would take longer to reach previous levels, Lin said.