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The Lincoln Park Zoo and MSD Animal Health have secured a joint victory for animal lovers and humanitarians alike. With substantial funding and direction from these two organizations, the Serengeti Health Initiative is vaccinating wild and domestic dogs to combat the spread of rabies in Tanzania, an endeavor that saves both the lives of people and animals in the east African nation.

Although rabies is both preventable and treatable, the developing world continues to suffer a disproportionate number of human cases. An estimated 70,000 people die from rabies every year, most of whom contract the disease in African and Asian nations. By vaccinating wild and domestic dogs, the Serengeti Project has reduced the annual number of rabies cases from 250 to effectively zero in Tanzania, which translates to an estimated 150 lives saved per year.

However, besides the immediate health benefits, the project improves the lives of Tanzanians in more ways than one. Dogs are essential to the welfare of many Tanzanians as they help herd goats, cattle and sheep. These animals also help protect farmers’ livestock from other wildlife. By ensuring these dogs remain healthy, the Project provides an essential service to many Tanzanians who rely on organized, protected livestock for their livelihood. Consequently, citizens are traveling miles to help combat the spread of this preventable, but deadly virus.

The Serengeti Health Initiative has produced a perceivable and positive impact on the outlook of the animal kingdom in Tanzania as well. Since the project’s commencement in 2003, the country’s lion population has experienced a healthy comeback. In addition, African Wild Dogs have successfully re-emerged in the ecosystem after being nearly extinct for the past two decades. However, the biggest success for animal lovers is how many animals are now avoiding this excruciatingly painful fate. Rabies causes a variety of symptoms, including disorientation, seizures and abnormally aggressive behavior before a debilitating paralysis results in death.

The results have been staggering. The Initiative has vaccinated over a million canines since 2003, yet the Lincoln Park Zoo publicly maintains that the fight is far from over: “The project has no end in sight: ongoing vaccinations are needed to continue to protect the Serengeti’s people, pets and predators.”

The project’s continuation is also beneficial to staff members like Anna Czupryna who are determined to learn more about the effects of the vaccination movement on the entire ecosystem. Czupryna also yearns to learn more about these understudied animals that roam Tanzania’s countryside.

“What do these dogs eat? What is pup survival like? What do they do on a daily basis?” She told the Chicago Tribune. “I just was curious. I just wanted to know.”

With so much to learn, staff members may be based in Tanzania for the foreseeable future, helping improve the lives of both man and animal in the east African nation.

– Sam Preston

Sources: The Chicago Tribune, ONE, Lincoln Park Zoo
Photo: Lincoln Park Zoo