One might think that living in proximity to lions and hyenas is dangerous enough, but that’s before you factor in a rabies epidemic.
Diseases like rabies and canine distemper are decimating populations of domestic dogs, hyenas, lions and other animals in Tanzania. Rabid dogs cause an obvious problem when they live with people, but wild animals that would ordinarily keep their distance are attacking locals once under the influence of the disease. Researchers from the Lincoln Park Zoo and Chicago Tribune reporters visited the village of Nangale and met with a family whose children were attacked by a rabid hyena in the middle of the night. Just one hyena wounded 11 people, many of whom will carry scars from the attack for the rest of their lives. And the outcome could have been worse; people are contracting the disease as well.
So the Lincoln Park Zoo is trying to curb these diseases before animals contract them. Through its Serengeti Health Initiative project, more than one million domestic dogs have been vaccinated so far. According to the project website, locals have been very supportive of the program, often traveling from miles away to keep their dogs – and through them, local wildlife – healthy. Near the Serengeti National Park, incidences of people contracting rabies has gone from 250 cases last year to zero this year. Researchers are also noticing a significant drop in distemper among big cats.
But the project is ongoing. Researchers are also monitoring animals in the park to see how the levels of disease instances change and affects overall population health, and educate locals on how rabies is spread and what they can do to stop it.
If you’re not a Chicago Tribune Digital PLUS member, you won’t be able to read the in-depth articles the Trib has written on the project, but you can read some quick clips, watch videos and slide shows on the project reporting site.