Pet owners unite amid surge of rabid hyena attacks in Nairobi

A recent spate of attacks by rabid hyenas in the Kenyan capital Nairobi has sent a ripple of fear through the city and across the East African country.

In February this year, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) confirmed rabies as the cause behind hyena attacks in Nairobi, Kajiado and Kiambu counties.

KWS attributed the unusual aggression to rabies, citing its well-documented tendency to induce abnormal animal behavior.

“The general public in the affected localities, in particular, are advised to exercise caution as they go about their daily activities as the necessary measures are put in place to manage the situation,” it said.

These attacks have tragically claimed the lives of two people and caused injuries to others. Moreover, the hyenas have expanded their targets beyond humans, with reports indicating a rise in attacks on domestic animals such as dogs and cats.

However, amid the concern, a heartwarming trend has emerged: a significant increase in responsible pet ownership. Kenyans across Nairobi are taking proactive steps to safeguard their beloved cats and dogs, and in turn, curb the potential spread of rabies.

Free veterinary clinics across Nairobi funded by non-governmental organizations and generous well-wishers are experiencing overwhelming demand as pet owners flood in, seeking rabies vaccinations for their beloved furry companions.

At a clinic set up at the Kayole Community Centre, John Muchai Mbugua Mwangi, a resident, waits patiently with his Jack Russell terrier, Spark.

Spark, a ball of boundless energy, bounces in John’s arms, eager to greet everyone.

“This whole hyena situation gave me a real scare,” Mwangi confessed to Anadolu.

“I wouldn’t dream of anything happening to Spark. He’s more than just a pet; he’s family. Getting him vaccinated is the least I can do.”

Across the waiting room sits Sarah Wambui, gently stroking her sleek Doberman Pinscher, Max.

“Max is my shadow,” Sarah explains. “We go everywhere together. The thought of him getting bitten by a rabid animal is terrifying. Getting him vaccinated is a no-brainer.”

Dedication goes beyond just vaccinations

Responsible pet owners are also considering additional measures to protect their animals and the wider community.

Spaying and neutering, a procedure that sterilizes pets, is gaining significant traction as it not only helps control pet populations but also reduces the risk of stray animals encountering rabid hyenas, or any other wild animal for that matter.

Ella Stekly, a volunteer veterinarian at the clinic, explained to Anadolu the benefits with a warm smile.

“Spaying and neutering is a win-win situation. It keeps pets healthy, reduces the number of strays on the streets, and ultimately helps control the spread of diseases like rabies.”

Many of the volunteers are animal lovers themselves, and the recent events have only strengthened their resolve.

David Njoroge, a veterinary student who volunteers his time at the clinic, said: “These attacks were a wake-up call, but it’s also a chance for us to come together and do what’s right for our pets and our city.”

Njoroge spends his days educating pet owners about rabies and the importance of preventative measures.

“The more informed people are, the better equipped they are to protect their animals,” he added.

“We’re all here to lend a paw,” Njoroge said, acknowledging the unique role of animal welfare in community support.

“Normally, it’s ‘lend a hand,’ but in our case, it’s about extending a helping paw to our furry friends who rely on us for protection and care.”

The impact of the surge in responsible pet ownership is evident in the clinic itself; previously at such clinics, the waiting area might have had a few scattered pet owners.

Now, it’s a vibrant space filled with wagging tails, curious meows, and the concerned chatter of pet parents.

One corner sees Michael Otieno patiently waiting with his two playful kittens, Peaches and Nala.

“These little ones are full of mischief,” Otieno chuckles, “but their playful swats won’t stand a chance against a rabid hyena. Getting them vaccinated is the responsible thing to do.”

Across from him sits Mary Atieno, her loyal German Shepherd, Kelly, by her side.

“Kelly is my protector,” Atieno said firmly. “There’s no way I’m letting him outside without proper protection. Vaccination and keeping him leashed are non-negotiable.”

Impact extends beyond the immediate protection against rabies

Free veterinary clinics like the one in Kayole are playing a crucial role in this movement, providing vital services and fostering a sense of community.

As John Mwangi walks out of the clinic with a visibly relieved Spark by his side, he offers his final thought.

“We all have a responsibility to our pets. We have to also control their population, so having them spayed or neutered is caring about their health.”

John’s sentiment is echoed by Sarah Wambui, who, with Max trotting happily beside her, said: “Our pets bring us so much joy. Taking care of them is the least we can do. It’s about keeping them safe, keeping our community safe, and ultimately, creating a better Nairobi for everyone.”

With free veterinary clinics continuing their vital work and pet owners taking proactive steps, Nairobi’s furry friends are receiving the protection they deserve.

The movement, born out of a crisis, has the potential to create a lasting positive impact on the city, ensuring a safer and healthier environment for both pets and humans alike, said Dr. Silas Kipsang.

Veterinarians at the clinic are also witnessing a rise in interest in general pet wellness as owners are inquiring about parasite control, proper nutrition and even behavioral training.

“It’s fantastic to see this shift in pet ownership. People are recognizing their pets as valued members of the family, and they want to give them the best possible care. That is why many, almost 90%, are having their pets neutered and spayed,” Kipsang explained.

“Vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and regular check-ups – these are all essential steps in ensuring a pet’s long-term health and happiness.”

The newfound focus on pet wellness is having a ripple effect throughout the community.

Local pet stores are reporting a surge in sales of high-quality pet food, flea and tick medication, and even toys and treats.

James Mwaura, who works at Petsasa, a local pet store, said: “Business has picked up. People are more invested in their pets’ well-being, and they’re willing to spend money on quality products.”

Mwaura, also a pet lover, isn’t just happy about the increased sales; he’s genuinely heartened by the change in attitude.

“It shows that people care,” he added.

Challenges remain

The issue of stray animals persists, and addressing it is crucial in the long run.

Working with local county officials, the veterinary clinics, along with other animal welfare organizations in Nairobi, are working on solutions to ensure that also stray animals are protected.

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs are being implemented in various parts of the city. These programs involve trapping stray animals, spaying or neutering them, having them vaccinated and then releasing them back into their territories.

This helps humanely control the stray population, said John Macharia, a volunteer with a TNR program, explaining the importance of such initiatives.

“Stray animals are often the most vulnerable to rabies, and they can also pose a threat to other animals and even humans,” he said. “By spaying and neutering strays, we significantly reduce their numbers and prevent the spread of diseases.”

Macharia emphasized the importance of community involvement, saying “everyone has a role to play.”

“Reporting stray animals to the authorities, supporting TNR programs, and simply being kind to animals on the street – these actions can all make a difference.”

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