Conservation group experts urged dog shooting in Ethiopia

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2003:

GOMA, Ethiopia–Why were free-roaming dogs shot in November 2003 in and around Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia? How much did the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme and Born Free Foundation have to do with it?

Why, after Homeless Animal Protection Society of Ethiopia cofounder Hana Kifle photographed a probable rabid wolf in August, was the EWCP vaccination program for pet dogs and working dogs, underway since 1996, not extended to homeless dogs?

Oral rabies vaccination of the Ethiopian wolves was reportedly approved by the Ethiopian government on November 7, apparently long after the EWCP first requested permission to use it.

But the dog-shooting continued.

“After we reported that the health problem occurred among the critically endangered wolves,” HAPS president Efrem Legesse told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “the vet team came to the area [weeks later] and decided to destroy all dogs. Without spending much time at all where the wolves are dying, they finally convinced the park warden that shooting is the only solution.

“There are two main wolf habitats in the park,” Legesse continued. “The team only spent one night in the first habitat and half a day in the other. Then they went to Addis Ababa with the park warden and prepared their report. Their report convinced the top authorities to allocate a budget and borrow the gun, with ammunition. Then the warden sent dog-shooting teams to the two wolf habitats.

“We found a copy of the report,” Legesse said. “Our friend Naji Mohammed,” a contributor of information to Legesse’s May 2001 ANIMAL PEOPLE essay The Dogs of Bale, “helped us to scan and send it to you.”

The scanning assistance was just one example among many of community cooperation described by the HAPS volunteers as they scrambled to try to save the local dogs.

Dated October 20, the seven-page report identified as co-authors Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organization research and veterinary team leader Fekadu Shiferaw, EWCO veterinarian Kifle Argaw, Bale National Park warden Fekadu Gardew, and EWCP veterinarian Zelealem Tefera.

“The EWCP has been working in the Bale Mountains since 1995,” according to a web site self-description, “to implement activities including education, disease prevention (through vaccination of domestic dogs), [and] hybridisation prevention (through domestic dog sterilization). The EWCP receives its core financial support from the Born Free Foundation, with additional funding from Frankfurt Zoological Society and Wildlife Conservation Society.”

British actors Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna started the Born Free Foundation in 1984, with their son Will Travers, who now heads it, 20 years after making the film Born Free in Kenya to tell the stories of renowned lion conservationists George and Joy Adamson.

“The Born Free Foundation campaigns for the protection and conservation of animals in their natural habitat and against the keeping of animals in zoos and circuses and as exotic pets,” declares the top paragraph of the Born Free Foundation web site. “Born Free, inspired by the true story of Elsa the lioness, believes that individuals matter. Born Free stands for compassion and a commitment to encourage a more caring world.”

Yet the report co-authored by Tefera recommended “to tie dogs at all time(s) at their homesteads so that roaming of dogs in and around the wolf ranges must be halted immediately,” a cruel exercise and pointless besides, if the dogs had in fact been vaccinated and sterilized, and urged “destruction of feral dogs found roaming around the wolf ranges and around human settlements.”

This was not a departure from past practice. Shiferaw in The Dogs of Bale described shooting homeless dogs “to remove the threat to the wolves from hybridization, rabies, parvovirus, distemper, and canine adenovirus.”

But Legesse produced The Dogs of Bale, with help from EWCP educator and Homeless Animals Protection Society cofounder Zegeye Kibret, because they and others who live and work at the park had become aware, partly through the EWCP vaccination and sterilization project, that killing dogs was accomplishing little, and that better methods were available.

Gayssa Camp manager Worko Abda had helped shoot dogs, but told Awel Adem, a future HAPS member, that “Bullets and chasing are not good longterm solutions.”

Park lodge manager Abdela Hussien recalled “how once Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Progamme coordinator Dr. Claudio Sillero was vexed by a dog and shot her from long range,” an incident Sillero denies. “The bullet made her lame,” Hussein said. “During the past two years she brought more dogs, and always escaped from any shooting.”

Her luck ran out on November 6, 2003, Legesse e-mailed, when she and four other dogs “were shot together near the park headquarters.”
EWCP denial

“Contrary to what has been suggested in recent e-mails,” Sillero asserted that day, “the EWCP and Born Free have no involvement whatsoever with any current or planned destruction of domestic dogs in Bale.”

But there was the name of EWCP veterinarian Zelealem Tefera on the October 20 recommendation that the dogs be killed.

There was also Sillero’s own history of antipathy toward the dogs, though the chapter on “Disease, Domestic Dogs and The Ethiopian Wolf” in the Ethiopian Wolf Action Plan he authored for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature seemed to disappear from the downloadable online edition as word of the dog-shooting began to circulate.

At another web site, <>, Sillero blamed the Bale-area dogs for “an outbreak of canine distemper,” which vaccination could have prevented.

“Another threat that may arise from wolves sharing their range with domestic dogs is hybridization,” Sillero continued. “Genetic testing of Ethiopian wolves in the Bale Mountains has proved that breeding between the endangered wolves and domestic dogs has occurred. A study by Dada Gottelli at the London Institute of Zoology showed that male domestic dogs have bred with female Ethiopian wolves, producing hybrid offspring.

“We first suspected that hybridization was occurring in 1989, when 8% of all wolves we observed in one study area showed atypical coat colours and some had kinky tails,” Sillero wrote, apparently before the publication of genetic research in May 2002 which suggested that there is no genetic difference between dogs and wolves greater than the differences among domestic breed types.

This, in effect, hints that the goal of wolf conservationists in seeking genetic purity has more in common with the goals of show breeders than with ensuring the continuity of evolution, which favors genetic diversity.

Nor was Sillero the only EWCP director on record as wanting to shoot the dogs of Bale. Stuart Williams, his successor as supervisor of EWCP projects at Bale, on April 2, 2002 wrote to HAPS that, “The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP), of which I am Co-ordinator, is prepared to carry out all the vaccinations of dogs that have yet to be vaccinated,” in keeping with past commitment. “However,” Williams continued, “there are occasions when, for one reason or another, the dogs cannot be caught to be vaccinated. I ask explicitly for your support to shoot these dogs. It simply is not tolerable that there are any unvaccinated dogs in this area.”

HAPS pointed out to Williams that shooting at even one dog would scare all of the dogs into the bush, closer to the wolves, and would make catching them for vaccination and sterilization even more difficult.

When Williams seemed disinclined to listen, HAPS on April 20, 2002 faxed his letter to ANIMAL PEOPLE.

ANIMAL PEOPLE sent Williams detailed information about successful programs that vaccinate and sterilize street dogs under similar circumstances, and forwarded Williams’ letter to numerous experts on wolves, rabies, and humane animal control, seeking their input.

Williams on June 24, 2002 complained that “the political implications” of making his proposal to shoot dogs known “could potentially threaten our efforts to fund continual improvements to our vaccination and disease prevention campaigns.”

From April 20, 2002 until October 20, 2003, however, there was no more talk of dog-shooting–at least not in writing.


Rabies hits

Four local rabies cases detected during July 2002 did not affect the wolves. The first hint of the present rabies outbreak came in August 2003, when Hana Kifle, while escorting park visitors more than 20 miles from known wolf habitat, photographed a sick female wolf with an apparent head wound resembling a bite.

“The first possible case was a thin and weak wolf sighted by park staff in August 2003 some 35 kilometres from areas in which the wolves live,” confirmed an October 31 EWCP press release.

“This sighting was thought to be a dispersing female, such as those that are periodically sighted some distance from established packs. The wolf disappeared before it could be examined by EWCP staff,” the release continued.

Kifle knew the wolf was not just “a dispersing female.”

Fearing that any confirmed rabies case among the wolves could trigger a dog massacre, as well as perhaps destroying much of the wolf population, Kifle, Legesse, and Zegeye Kibret in September at the All-Africa Humane Education Summit in Cape Town asked ANIMAL PEOPLE to help get someone to take Kifle’s report and photograph seriously.

“The first suspicion that this was disease arose,” the EWCP press release continued, “when four wolf deaths were reported on October 9, 2003. Samples taken from the dead wolves were sent for diagnosis to the Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute (formerly the Pasteur Institute) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA. While the Pasteur Institute currently lacks the materials to test for rabies, the CDC confirmed the presence of rabies in all wolf samples sent to them.”

Frustrated by the delay, Legesse as HAPS president on October 17 appealed via the Humane Society International electronic bulletin board <hsi-animalia> for technical help in identifying the disease.
“What makes me write is the failure of the identification process,” Legesse explained. “The postmortem analysis was not successful because of the lack of chemicals in the laboratory of our countryŠIt is very sad to have such kinds of shortage when this [type of analysis] can be done in a mobile clinic in other countries. Whether the result of the analysis is rabies, canine distemper, or any other disease, we feel we have to save the Ethiopian wolf from extinction. We have to try our best to avoid those who are already ill and vaccinate those who are not.”

That brought HAPS a rebuke from Sillero and a refusal from <hsi-animalia> to post additional e-mails from Legesse about his “campaign.”

“It is my understanding that the best possible people are already available to deal with the emergency and that the necessary funds have been pledged by our sponsors to deal with this situation in the immediate future,” Sillero wrote to Legesse, disregarding–as also did former Bale Rabies Control Project coordinator Dr. Karen Laurenson in a message to ANIMAL PEOPLE–that HAPS had not asked for funding. Laurenson, however, asked ANIMAL PEOPLE for funding.

“I was not aware that your organization was involved with wildlife conservation,” Sillero continued to Legesse, “and I am certain that you have no participation in any activities concerning Ethiopian wolves.”

In fact, HAPS cofounder Zegeye Kibret has been the EWCP educator for as long as it has had a local education program, as Sillero knew, having hired him. Kifle and Legesse, through their work at Bale National Park, are also actively if indirectly involved in protecting the wolves.

“I could not help to notice,” Sillero went on, “that your message mades no reference to the EWCP presence in Bale, nor of their central role in discovering the disease outbreak, active pursuit of a diagnosis, and efforts to contain itŠWhile I commend your interest in assisting with this emergency I would like to suggest that you get in touch with the EWCP and the relevant Ethiopian authorities.”

Later the EWCP asserted in their press release that, “all leading authorities in the area have worked to trace the transmission route and spread of the disease,” said “to have entered the Bale Mountains from lower areas to the north, carried in by one or more immigrant domestic dogs.” The release also mentioned efforts “to innoculate remaining unvaccinated domestic dogs.”
HAPS had not been able to reach the senior EWCP staff in weeks. E-mailing to Laurenson, ANIMAL PEOPLE on October 17 received an automated reply advising that “Karen Laurenson is on holiday until 12th October but may check mail intermittently.”

Awel Adem learned later on October 17, Hana Kifle e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE, “that Laurenson and Stuart Williams are trying to get medicine into the country from wherever they are,” outside Ethiopia.

“We are upset that the EWCP are not informing the people [what is happening] through the media,” Kifle continued, adding “Four wolves have been found eaten by carnivores; I think this will make the problem more serious. Once it gets into the ecosystem it will be very difficult to control.”

Recalled the EWCP press release, “A disease epidemic in 1991-92, coupled with some killing by humans, resulted in the deaths of three-quarters of wolves in the Web valley and two-thirds of the known Bale population.

“The EWCP has been vaccinating domestic dogs within wolf range in the Bale Mountains since 1996,” the release continued, “in an attempt to reduce the risk of rabies, distemper and other canine diseases. Despite occasional reluctance among local communities to allow their dogs to be vaccinated, over 80% coverage of dogs has been achieved,” about 10% more than the usual threshold needed to prevent the spread of an epidemic.

“In addition to the vaccination efforts,” the EWCP said, “education and dog sterilization has led to a decrease in the dogs.

“Between 2001-2003,” the release finally asserted, “the EWCP also carried out a detailed research project on domestic dog ecology revealing that there are no feral dogs in the Bale Mountains; all dogs are owned.”

But if that was true, whose were the dogs whom Williams wanted to shoot?

Legesse in The Dogs of Bale quoted seven different sources who described the presence of local feral dogs, and sent with his manuscript submission to ANIMAL PEOPLE several dozen photographs showing some of the dogs, plus a tablecloth-sized hand-drawn map illustrating their approximate numbers and pack locations.

“The EWCP is currently reviewing the options available to attempt to contain the disease,” concluded the October 31 release. “Ultimately, the decision of whether or not an intervention to contain the spread of rabies in this critical population of Ethiopian wolves takes place lies in the hands of the Ethiopian authorities.”

“We are reacting to these outbreaks as determinedly as possible,” Williams wrote in a web statement. “Indeed, they have given us the opportunity to enforce some of the outstanding issues surrounding the vaccination campaign and the lack of compliance among the local people. We have been in discussion with the local authorities, who support our suggestions that having unvaccinated dogs in critical areas such as this is unacceptable. They fully support our proposal, if it came to that, that dogs would be killed by euthanasia if the dog could not be caught despite all efforts. We will be following this up in the next few days.”

Williams did not explain how a dog could be “killed by euthanasia” if the dog could not be caught.

The 2000 American Veterinary Medical Association Report on Euthanasia recognizes death by gunshot as “euthanasia” only if “the projectile enters the brain, causing instant loss of consciousnessŠA gunshot to the heart or neck does not immediately render animals unconscious, and thus is not considered to meet the definition of euthanasia.”

“What makes us very sad and sick is that they are shooting dogs in front of our branch office, where we started our humane education program and got support from the local community, epecially children,” wrote Legesse and Hana Kifle together on November 6, 2003. “This is done purposely to push our heads down and make lose hope. They are upset that we informed the world,” Legesse and Kifle alleged.


The smoking gun


ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim Bartlett by return e-mail asked Legesse and Kifle to photograph the shooting. Later on November 6, Legesse e-mailed that appearing with a camera had interrupted the shooting.

Bale National Park warden Fekadu Gardew told HAPS member Awel Adem that no dogs would be killed at Dinsho, one of the largest towns near the park.

But Legesse and Kifle found and transmitted to ANIMAL PEOPLE both in translation and in the original Ethiopian format another written report from Gardew to the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organization headquarters, confirming that the strategy recommended on October 20 was being pursued.

The report tallied the deaths of 26 wolves from seven packs since September 27, and concluded by explaining that an eight-member dog-killing team had been dispatched to the two primary wolf habitats.

Legesse and Kifle on Sunday, November 9 journeyed to the town of Goba “to get transportation for Hana to go to Addis Ababa so that she can brief the government officials,” Legesse explained that evening. “While we were away from the park headquarters, the EWCO team, convinced by Dr. Zelalem’s report [that dogs should be shot] sent three well-equipped scouts to assist the park team in destroying dogs.”

Awel Adem pursued them with his camera. “Due to this,” Legesse said, “Awel was sent to Addis Ababa by the park warden to keep him out of the area. I am also kept busy in the office to make sure I cannot follow any shooter with my camera. “

But the busywork was not enough to enable the dog-killing to proceed in secrecy. “Once I tried my best to take a photo by hiding myself in the bush, and lit the flash of my camera at the same time the gunman tried to pull the trigger, and finally the dog escaped. Attached is the scanned photo of the shooter,” Legesse finished in his November 10 update.

ANIMAL PEOPLE promptly shared that photo and others with concerned persons including Alison Hood of the Born Free Foundation. Hood on Nov-ember 10 was still distributing–above her own name– Sillero’s November 6 assertion that “The EWCP and Born Free have no involvement whatsoever with any current or planned destruction of domestic dogs in Bale.”

After advising ANIMAL PEOPLE that “We are consulting our lawyers,” Hood e-mailed a very different statement on November 12, demanding that it be published in full:


Born Free Foundation statement

1) BFF makes no bones about the fact that Dr. Zelealem Tefera signed the report entitled Field Report on the Current Mortality of Ethiopian Wolves in the Bale Mountains National Park. The other signatories were Government officials. This document presents a suite of short-term measures necessary to contain the spread of the disease (rabies) to the wolves and other wild and domestic stocks. They include, but are not restricted to, the destruction of feral dogs.

2) Dr Zelealem signed this report and its recommendations in a personal and professional capacity. His decision to do so draws on his substantial knowledge and experience. He has the full support of the BFF.

3) It is self-evident that unvaccinated feral dogs roaming inside Bale Mountains National Park that have or which may be exposed to rabies must be destroyed in the most humane way possible. In this situation, shooting is the most humane and safest option. It would be irresponsible to adopt any other policy. This position is endorsed by BFF’s Head of Conservation, Dr. Claudio Sillero.

4) Born Free and the EWCP believe that the targeted, limited destruction of feral dogs exposed to rabies and likely to come into contact with Ethiopian wolves, can only be endorsed as a last resort.

5) Plainly if there was any other option at this time, the EWCP would exercise it. The project has gone to extraordinary lengths to reduce, in a non-lethal way, the number of dogs in the park and also to reduce the threat of disease and to address the problem of hybridisation in a non-lethal way.

6) These non-lethal alternatives continue to be employed in the hope that the need for lethal government intervention can be further reduced and possibly eliminated in the future.

7) Currently any killing of dogs in Bale that has taken or may take place is carried out by the government, not the EWCP.

8) Dr. Sillero did not shoot and wound a dog as reported. In 1989 (six years before the inception of the EWCP), at the request of the government, Dr. Sillero shot 12 dogs which had been exposed to rabies. No dog was left unaccounted for.

9) There is no ‘massacre’ of dogs being carried out in Bale–either by the government, the EWCP or the BFF.

Born Free believes that the current action being taken by the EWCP is consistent with our animal welfare and conservation agenda. In a crisis situation, as currently exists, we have no options other than to support the Government’s policy to shoot such feral dogs under the strict terms already set out above. Any other course of action would be grossly irresponsible and could lead to more suffering and more deaths, including a real risk for the people of Bale Mountains.



Shooting animals of any species on mere suspicion of possible exposure to rabies is not recommended by the current (2000) edition of the National Animal Control Association Training Guide, nor was it recommended by the 1989 first edition, nor does it appear to have been recommended within the past 15 years–if ever–by the Compendium of Rabies Control, updated annually by the National Association of Public Health Veterinarians, nor is it recommended by Animal Control Management: A Guide for Local Governments, published by the International City/ County Management Association.

Shooting animals on mere suspicion of possible exposure to rabies is also not recommended by the Animal Welfare Board of India, whose handbook Questions & Answers on Rabies, authored by Maneka Gandhi, was written for use in economically, educationally, and technologically disadvantaged locations.

Expanded, updated, and revised for multinational use by ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim Bartlett, with the help of internationally experienced rabies and animal population control expert Ray Butcher, VMD, of Britain, Questions & Answers on Rabies may be downloaded from the ANIMAL PEOPLE web site, at no charge, in either English, French, or Spanish.

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