The Bali administration will continue culling stray dogs to stop the spread of the rabies virus, despite protests by animal activists over the move.
As of Thursday, the Bali Animal and Husbandry Agency has culled 1,277 stray dogs and vaccinated 38,177 dogs. The move began in November when Bali was declared a rabies zone.
But the Bali Rabies Forum, comprising several animal rights groups, said culling stray dogs was both ineffective and inhumane.
"Culling stray dogs didn't prove effective when there was a rabies outbreak in East Nusa Tenggara. Socially and culturally, dogs are highly prized in both Bali and East Nusa Tenggara," said Wita Wahyu, a veterinarian from the forum.
"Typically, people prefer to let dogs roam in the open. Keeping them domesticated influences them psychologically and makes them difficult to control.
"Culling them is simply not humane."
The forum has asked the administration to stop culling and instead vaccinate all dogs, domesticated and stray.
"We've asked the administration to allow us to train villagers to catch stray dogs to be vaccinated. But so far there has been no response," said Wita, who is also program manager of the Yudisthira Swarga Foundation.
The administration argues that it is racing against time to prevent more people from being bitten by rabid dogs. Culling through the use of the toxic drug strychnine has allowed the animal husbandry agency to quickly eliminate strays by either lacing bait with the poison or shooting the dogs with blow darts.
"We only cull stray dogs or dogs that are left to roam by their owners. Such dogs are a threat during a rabies outbreak such as this," said agency head I.B. Ketut Alit.
"The use of strychnine has helped greatly. Previously, we had to catch the dogs before putting them down with injections.
"We have received clearance from the Agriculture Ministry to use the poison. So far, we have 70 kilograms of it, which we can use for hundreds of dogs."
Alit said the culls were just part of an effort to stem the rabies outbreak, together with public education and vaccination campaigns. He added his office had received many complaints from overseas about the culls.
"They don't understand that there are so many stray dogs roaming Bali. Many owners also do not take proper care of their dogs," he said.
"This has made it difficult to eliminate rabies."
The culling program is only being carried out in Kuta and South Kuta districts, in Badung regency, and in South Denpasar district in Denpasar. Other regions only see dissemination and vaccination programs.
The second round or booster vaccination will be held in March, with Alit asking all dog owners to have their dogs vaccinated to prevent being culled.
"Owners must also put vaccination tags on their dogs and put them in cages or leash. Don't let them roam."
He admitted his agency did not have reliable figures for the island's dog population, saying it was going by a rough estimate that there was one dog for every eight humans. With a population of about 3.5 million people, he went on, Bali was believed to have 437,500 dogs.
The Yudisthira Swarga Foundation says the figure is higher, at 540,000 dogs, with a density of 96 dogs per square kilometer.
Also proving a problem is the strain of the rabies virus being passed around.