Despite a High Court ban in 2014, various authorities around the country, not just in Dhaka, have continued to cull street dogs indiscriminately from time to time
After decades of persisting measures that were decried by animal rights activists, Bangladesh has perhaps, finally, begun to move away from culling to vaccinating dogs in order to tackle rabies.
Despite a High Court ban in 2014, various authorities around the country, not just in Dhaka, have continued to cull street dogs indiscriminately from time to time. Groups campaigning for animal rights have continued to clamour for humane treatment of animals over the years, and called for an end to these cruel measures.
But Health and Family Welfare Minister Dr Zahid Maleque’s bold stance, supported by State Minister for Fisheries and Livestock Ashraf Ali Khan Khasru and Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Atiqul Islam, at a program at Krishibid Institute Bangladesh on Thursday, clearly laid out the government's new viewpoint.
They were present at the inauguration of a vaccination program, titled “Rabies elimination in Bangladesh: Role of mass dog vaccination.”
Various speakers at the program claimed that culling dogs cannot address rabies, but vaccinations certainly can. Rabies, transmitted via mammals, is often found in domesticated animals like dogs and cats. The disease can be fatal if contracted by humans and not treated on time.
The Health and Family Welfare Ministry's Communicable Diseases Control (CDC) unit will conduct three rounds of the vaccination program with the help of Dhaka North and South city corporations, World Health Organization (WHO), and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The week-long program will begin on May 14.
Dr Abul Kalam Azad, director general of Directorate General of Health Service, presided over the program, while Dr Sanya Tahmina, CDC line director, presented the keynote paper.
Dr Sanya said: “There are 1.6 million dogs in Bangladesh, and almost 83% of these dogs live on the streets. The government aims to vaccinate each and every dog in the country to eradicate rabies. Around 40,000 and 50,000 people are bitten by dogs every year, with children being the most common victims. And before 2010, over 2,000 rabies-related deaths were reported in the country.”
She noted that from late 2011, as part of a new national rabies elimination strategy, the government began vaccinating—rather than killing—dogs on a large scale to eliminate rabies from the country by 2022, well before the Sustainable Development Goals-2030.
She also claimed that Bangladesh reduced human deaths from rabies by 90% within 2015.
She said: “Culling dogs increases the risk of rabies spreading. Dogs tend to run away to save themselves from culling and bite people who come in their way, which is the main cause of dog-biting.”
The health minister claimed that dogs only bite people when they become victims of violence.
Dr Zahid said: “Dogs only bite people when they are the victims of violence. Humans cannot live without dogs and dogs cannot live without humans. We are not going to kill them, we are going to vaccinate them.
Dhaka North Mayor Atiqul described himself as a dog lover, saying: “I have two puppies and two cats at home. My daughter dotes on them. This city of ours is not just for humans, but for dogs, crows, cats, and many other animals that are crucial to maintain an ecological balance. The DNCC will work to raise awareness among people.”
State Minister for Fisheries and Livestock Khasru stated that culling dogs is a very cruel practice, and urged people to abstain from such actions.
Journalist, columnist and researcher Syed Abul Maksud said he was hopeful of the drive to eradicate rabies from Bangladesh.
He said: “The world will be rabies-free in 2030, but Bangladesh will be rabies-free by 2022.”
Director General of Department of Livestock Services Dr Hiresh Ranjon Bhowmik, Sher-e-Bangla Agriculture University Vice-Chancellor Dr Kamal Uddin Ahmed, among others, also spoke at the event.
The culture of culling dogs, instead of vaccinating them, has perpetuated among many civic authorities.
However, on Wednesday, it was reported that Barisal City Corporation is planning to open a dog shelter for 4,000 street dogs, instead of culling them.
Earlier in August 2018, Dhaka South City Corporation was reported to be culling dogs, instead of rehabilitating them. The dogs had been rounded up as part of a security measure.
In January 2017, Chittagong City Corporation was found to have secretly culled over 150 dogs in violation of the High Court order. The discovery led to strong protests by animal lovers in the city.
In February 2017, the Animal Welfare Act was passed to prevent cruelty towards animals.