IFAW launches rabies vaccination program in tsunami disaster area of Sri Lanka

Tuesday, 25 January, 2005
Yarmouth Port, MA
A rabies vaccination and medical care program for dogs was recently launched in Sri Lanka by IFAW’s Emergency Relief team, led by Dr. Ian Robinson, in conjunction with local veterinarians in response to the Tsunami disaster.
The twenty-person team from IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) hopes to vaccinate more than 2,000 at risk dogs along 30 miles of coast stretching south from the city of Galle, which is one of the areas most devastated by the tragedy. More than 38,000 people are known to have died in Sri Lanka.

“It is crucial to vaccinate as many dogs as possible, because without this program a major outbreak of rabies is a serious human health risk,” said veterinarian Dr. Robinson, Manager of IFAW’s ER Team.

“After the tsunami disaster the last thing these people need is rabies claiming even more lives. We have already come across one dog with rabies at an air base,” added Dr. Robinson.

The main problem has been caused by large numbers of pets being left behind after their owners were killed when the Tsunami hit on December 26. There is already a substantial stray population on Sri Lanka and it is feared that with them breeding with the additional ownerless pet dogs there is an increased threat of rabies spreading and people being infected.

The IFAW ER Team is working with veterinarians from Peradeniya University in two mobile units. They stop at refugee camps and among the devastated remains of homes along the coast road where they use megaphones to call on the surviving people to bring out their pets for vaccination. They also round up the strays for treatment.

Dr. Ashoka Dangolla, Senior Lecturer at the university veterinary school, said, “The response from all the refugees and villagers is tremendous. They are delighted to have their dogs vaccinated because they are well aware of the serious risk of a rabies outbreak after this disaster. We already have rabies in Sri Lanka and the sudden increase in the large number of stray dogs is a real danger.”

“Our teams go out in the early morning, but stop in the middle of the day because all of the strays get out of the heat and can’t be found. We then go out for another session in the afternoon and evening. There are so many dogs it is a rush to get from one area to another, but we are managing to vaccinate more than 100 each day and expect to be working for a few more weeks. With IFAW’s intervention we are able to have a substantial impact on the problem,” said Dr. Dangolla.

The vaccinated dogs are given red collars to identify them. The vets are also treating cuts and injuries as well as dogs that are sick because they swallowed seawater when the waves struck.

“We don’t know how many animals died in the disaster. It was mainly those that were chained up or locked in their homes,” said Dr. Dangolla. “Local people say that many animals sensed the Tsunami and headed for higher ground before it struck.”

Dr. Robinson has just returned to the UK after helping to set up the program, which will run for at least another week. He said: “The next stage being organized is a spay and neutering program, which will run for several months. We are also supporting a turtle conservation project with tents for temporary accommodation for the beach patrol officers, three of whom were killed in the disaster. We are also looking at how else we can help them.”

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