Wildlife & Biodiversity

Bhutan becomes first country to sterilise all stray dogs after 14-year-long project

New report by WHO, FAO & WOAH recommends oral rabies vaccination

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Tuesday 31 October 2023
Over 150,000 strays in Bhutan have been sterilised since 2009. Photo for representation: iStock

Bhutan has declared itself the first country in the world to have completely sterilised and vaccinated its entire stray dog population, following a 14-year dog population control programme.

A global animal charity, Humane Society International (HSI), that helped implement the programme made the announcement.

Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering announced the completion of the National Dog Population Management and Rabies Control Project, noting that the project has successfully sterilised and vaccinated over 150,000 strays since its inception.

The project, which began in 2009, also included microchipping 32,000 pet dogs.

Read more: Dogs do not belong on streets — the current menace is a result of abandonment and human perfidy

There are about 300 million stray dogs across Asia who struggle with starvation, parasitic infections, untreated diseases, injuries from road traffic accidents and transmissible cancers, said a HSI press statement. These dogs often fall prey to direct persecution and inhumane culling.

Tshering stated:

This might seem like a small step, but it will go a long way in nation-building. It would not have been achieved without the thousands of de-suups (community volunteers). This is a historic gathering, not just for the nation but globally.

If effective sterilisation and vaccination are not carried out, the stray dog population increases, leading to an increase in dog bites and the spread of rabies, the statement added.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 59,000 people a year die of rabies globally, and most rabies cases in humans are the result of a dog bite. Governments across Asia routinely resort to inhumane methods of managing street dogs by culling and mass sheltering,” it stated.

Read more: Urban Menace: India’s policies on free-ranging dogs risk public health

Meanwhile, the United Nations organisations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), WHO and World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) have pressed the recommendations on oral vaccination of dogs against rabies.

Apart from traditional injectable vaccines, which are primarily used for mass dog vaccinations, oral rabies vaccination (ORV) could prove to be more effective in targeted elimination efforts that have been used among regional wildlife populations, according to the UN.

The traditional approach comes with its own challenges, especially reaching the dog populations in middle- and low-income countries in Africa and Asia.

“Despite its success in wildlife, ORV has not been widely applied for controlling dog-mediated rabies,” the statement said, recommending the implementation of ORV by integrating it with national strategies to control rabies in dog populations.

“It replaces or supersedes issue-related contents in previous WHO foundational documents on the ORV of dogs, shifting focus from vaccine and bait development to addressing regulatory considerations, logistics, distribution strategies, communication, campaign activities and monitoring,” it said.

Read more: Urban Menace: We should lower our intolerance towards stray dogs

The UN has recommended the implementation of ORV in combination with injectable vaccines to increase vaccination targeting, especially “free-roaming and poorly supervised dogs”.

It suggested the new documents accommodate the country’s circumstances, such as its resource capacity and socio-cultural aspects, that will help customise the ORV programme.

“By embracing the recommendations in this document, countries can enhance their dog rabies control programmes and work towards achieving the global goal of zero dog-mediated human rabies deaths by 2030,” it stated.

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