By Molly Feltner, MGVP Communications Officer

Since 2006, the Gorilla Doctors have worked with the Rwanda Animal Resource Development Authority to vaccinate the domestic dogs and cats living around Volcanoes National Park annually. Rabies, which can be transmitted from domestic pets to humans, other animals, and even gorillas, is one of the critical diseases being tackled by our One Health team.

A boy brings his dog to be vaccinated.

Prior to our program, very few dogs and cats in this part of Rwanda were vaccinated. Most people living in this area could not afford the $5 to $10 vaccine, and ever fewer understood the connection between their animals’ health and the health their families, nor of the wildlife populations. 

Most domestic dogs in the area are kept for protection or hunting, not as pets, and are generally not well cared for. Dogs tend to be kept outside at night and are expected to scavenge food for themselves, so these animals often enter the national park in search of food and water. Some dogs are used by poachers to hunt game. The Gorilla Doctors regularly find dog footprints inside the park, and on several recent occasions have recovered the bodies of golden monkeys that appeared to have been killed by dogs. If one of these dogs were rabid, it could pass the disease to monkeys or gorillas, not to mention humans.

Dr. Jean Felix prepares an injection.

To combat these problems, Gorilla Doctor Jean-Felix Kinani devotes a great deal of his time to managing our rabies vaccine program and educating people about the idea of ecosystem health. With the assistance of veterinary medicine students from the regional agriculture school, Dr. Jean-Felix trains local veterinarians to administer rabies vaccines and counsel their clients about proper care for their animals. The veterinarians visit clients individually throughout the year and also host rabies clinics at central locations. The clients’ dogs and cats receive their rabies vaccines for free, thanks to supplies donated by the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.

Dr. Jean Felix vaccinating a dog

“Local veterinarians have estimated a population of about 1,600 dogs and cats in the area, and so far this year we’ve vaccinated about 1,100,” says Dr. Jean-Felix. “It is difficult to communicate the importance of good animal management, but through our efforts people are beginning to understand.”