The Maun Animal Welfare Society (MAWS) was formed in 2003 by a small group of residents in Maun in response to the alarming increase in unwanted, free-roaming domestic dogs in the village. These animals posed a serious threat to the health and safety of both human and wildlife populations.
The initial focus of the Society was to limit the population growth of domestic dogs using surgical sterilisation to prevent unwanted puppies and vaccination to prevent the transmission of disease. MAWS’ mission has broadened to include promoting the health and welfare of all animals in Maun and the surrounding communities through the prevention of disease, sterilisation and vaccination of free-roaming and unwanted domestic animals and promotion of animal health through community-based education and training in animal care and humane treatment.
Today MAWS has developed to become a formally registered charity with considerable credibility. It is a volunteer organisation comprised of Maun business and community members.
The Sterivac Programme has made significant progress towards its goal of reducing the unwanted, free-roaming domestic dog population of Maun and its surrounding communities. In doing so it has produced an effective and sustainable model of mobile sterilisation and vaccination for the Northern Ngamiland region of Botswana. Together with community members, MAWS has raised awareness amongst villagers of the value of sterilisation and vaccination. The project has increased the rabies vaccination coverage of the Department of Veterinary Science and has paved the way for acceptance of the programme for domestic dogs, which will significantly reduce the threat of a rabies outbreak.
As of January 2011 nearly 6 500 animals were vaccinated and 6 000 sterilised in areas throughout northern Botswana including Maun, Mababe, Gweta, Sankuyo, Khwai, Rackops, Shakawe, Seronga, Nxamaseri and many others.
Although there is no formal evaluation of our programme, the incidence of rabies and distemper are lowest in this region and it is generally understood that this is a result of MAWS activities. It is vital, therefore that the programme should continue. Sterilisation and vaccination programmes fail when, due to complacency or inadequate funding and support, coverage is reduced. Numbers of stray dogs rise very quickly as a bitch starts reproducing at two years of age and delivers between six and eight puppies every six months for her lifetime of six -seven years. Just one unsterilised stray bitch can add 12 puppies to the stray dog population in one year.
Focus areas are those in close proximity to wildlife reserves, where it is hoped that vaccination and sterilisation of domestic pet populations will reduce the incidence of common diseases often spread by domestic dogs, thereby reducing their impact on both herbivores and predators in the national parks and wilderness habitats.
The project objectives are to vaccinate and sterilise between 1 500 and 2 000 animals in 2011, the focus being outlying villages and areas close to or particularly hazardous to wildlife.
Local chiefs are approached and the programme outlined to them, encouraging active participation in the process. The word usually spreads after this, but if necessary, a meeting with the community is organised. More often, villagers begin to bring their pets of their own accord.
Dogs are vaccinated with a 5-in-1 injection that includes vaccination for canine distemper and rabies – two very dangerous diseases that can easily spread into populations of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), the most endangered large carnivore in Botswana.
The project has been funding and encouraging vets from all over the world to volunteer their services; many have come to help vaccinate and sterilise the domestic animals and all provide their time free of charge. Technical equipment includes vaccines, syringes, needles, drugs for anesthetising, supplies involved with medical operations, keeping the vaccines cold, operating tables. The operations are usually carried out for two week at a time, depending on the remoteness of the villages.
This is a project with direct conservation outcomes and focuses more on these than on the production of reports and papers. The principal outputs of this project include the reduced uncontrolled breeding by domestic dogs as the high numbers have a very negative impact on all wildlife in areas surrounding human settlements. The vaccinations also help reduce the spread of diseases carried by domestic animals into the surrounding wildlife populations.
Two to three field trips are being undertaken, each approximately two weeks long to various villages surrounding the Okavango Delta RAMSAR Site, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.
Each field trip usually has a team of six people consisting of vets, two vet technicians, an interpreter and the programme coordinator. Accommodation is either in tents or in local accommodation.
A recent outbreak of rabies in Kasane showed at least 10 domestic dogs testing positive for the disease. A vaccination programme was carried out immediately, but not much work has yet been done regarding vaccination for rabies and canine distemper in outlying villages.
Recent evidence from a wild dog study being carried out by a Masters student at the University of Botswana – Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre has shown that a pack in the Linyanti comes within 17km of Parakurungu and 35km of Kachikau. Preliminary records have also shown that the pack in the Vumbura Concession comes within 10km of Eretsha and within 16km of Betsha. Considering some packs travel along a home range area of more than 85km between the furthest edges of the territory, these villages are well within reach and are the focus of the first vaccination efforts.
The initial trips will focus on rabies vaccinations in villages along the northern edge of the Okavango Delta, including villages such as Seronga, Etsha, Eretsha, Beetsha, Gunotsoga and Gudigwa as well as villages west of Kasane including Parakarungu and Kachikau.