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Fur flies on euthanasia in rabies fight

June 30th, 2004, 10:43 PM
Animal-rights groups are fighting for the lives of Eastern Ontario raccoons


To animal-rights activists and environmentalists, they're the cute, furry critters that comb through your garbage at night in search of a tasty treat.

To the government agencies charged with the responsibility of controlling the spread of rabies, raccoons represent a major threat to public health and safety.

The fur has been flying between the two groups for years over the controversial practice of "depopulation," or trapping and then killing raccoons found within five kilometres of a positive rabies case.

Activists say the practice is inhumane, ineffective and costly. But government officials say it's "absolutely necessary" to control and eventually eradicate the spread of the deadly disease in both Ontario and New Brunswick, the only two provinces with recorded cases of raccoon rabies.

The debate came to a head last week at an Ottawa city council meeting where members of a local wildlife centre and municipal politicians agreed to ask the provincial government to stop killing raccoons in rabies hot spots.

The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre says about 9,700 "healthy" raccoons have been killed since 2002 in Eastern Ontario and that a "reality check" is necessary both in terms of the minimal threat rabies poses to humans and the excessive cost of battling the disease.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources says its $2-million annual raccoon-rabies control program is necessary to protect public health and the safety of other wildlife, family pets and agricultural species such as livestock.

"If you get rabies, you die," said Chris Davies, manager of the wildlife, research and development section of the MNR, adding family pets are the most common transmitters of the disease to humans.

Rabies is a disease of the central nervous system that is spread by infected animals including raccoons, foxes and skunks. If left untreated, rabies may result in death but death is rare. Humans and other mammals can become infected through a cut or scratch from a rabid animal or if the virus comes into contact with the moist tissues of the mouth, nose or eyes. Medical treatment involves a series of injections.

Mr. Davies confirmed 9,116 raccoons have been euthanized by "humane injection" since the depopulation program began after the first outbreak of raccoon rabies in Ontario in July 1999.

He added the reason it is necessary to kill raccoons in the depopulation area is because of lengthy incubation periods that make it extremely difficult to detect whether a seemingly "healthy" animal is carrying the virus.

If the government does nothing, says Mr. Davies, raccoon rabies could spread at a rate of 50 to 60 kilometres per year and would cost the province between $9-million and $12-million annually once the virus covered the province.

In a release, Debbie Lawes, a founding member of the Ontario Wildlife Coalition and a board member of the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre, called the ministry's tactics "alarmist" and "fear-mongering," and said raccoon rabies "ranks near the bottom of human health risks."

Ms. Lawes would like to see "policies and regulations that allow effective and humane wildlife rehabilitation."

According to the ministry, there are an estimated 1.1 million raccoons in Ontario. There have been 127 confirmed cases of raccoon rabies in Ontario since the first case was reported in an area northeast of Brockville in July, 1999. To date, there have been no deaths from raccoon rabies in Canada. In the United States, where the Department of Agriculture spends $27-million (U.S.) annually on raccoon rabies control, there has been only one confirmed human death related to raccoon rabies.

Ms. Lawes is calling for a review of the province's rabies control program and she points to an election promise made by Ontario Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay to do just that.

The ministry says its campaign to create a buffer zone of protection against raccoon rabies is necessary to stop the disease from spreading from high-risk zones in Smiths Falls and a 25-kilometre area northeast of Brockville to major city centres such as Toronto and Ottawa.

In New Brunswick, officials say they spend less than $500,000 a year on a trap-vaccinate-release program for raccoons.

Mr. Davies said only 10 per cent of his ministry's rabies control budget is allocated to depopulation; another 10 per cent is allocated to a trap-vaccinate-release program and the remaining 80 per cent to aerial bating -- a process where vanilla-flavoured vaccine baits are dropped from helicopters within a 50-kilometre radius of a positive case. He acknowledged aerial bating alone "would work, but it takes longer."

"My nightmare . . . is a hitchhiking raccoon with rabies getting into downtown Toronto. A lot of them do get on transport trucks. I just shudder," said Mr. Davies. "I'm not an evangelist on this thing -- I'm a scientist on it."

July 1st, 2004, 12:52 AM
In Europe they put bait out with rabies vaccine in it for the wild critters. Not exactly sure how it works, but I know they do it, or did anyway.

July 1st, 2004, 08:45 AM
This is just another"Kill them all"solution made by morons who would prefer we have no wild-life period.
Raccoons have a right to live,just like us humans...rabies have existed forever and there are solutions cheaper than killing.
It just makes me outraged as how easy it is to kill,as with the 3.000 Cormorants found to be a nuisance :mad:
Who are we to decide and to have the right to kill our wildlife,raccoons are very much a part of North America and they are wonderful,smart animals .
I have yet to hear one single case of rabies in any dog or cat,much less humans.