Congressman Quigley: How Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo is saving lives through dog vaccinations

Walking boma to boma to leave no dog unvaccinated in villages surrounding the Serengeti National Park: Copyright Lincoln Park Zoo.

At ONE, we love sharing unexpected stories of US-funded programs that help benefit the health and economies of communities across Africa. In this piece, we are thrilled to have US Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) tell us about an interesting private program from his city, Chicago, that helps save lives through a surprising means: dog vaccinations!

Rep. Quigley’s love for animals goes beyond dogs.

As a Representative of the City of Chicago in the U.S. Congress, I’m proud of the many ways in which my hometown is reaching out to people around the world, particularly in Africa. Not only does our city trade with African countries and support critical development programs, we also work on a few unexpected projects — like conservation efforts to help protect the majestic African wildlife.

Today, I’d like to celebrate one of those projects: Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo’s dog vaccination program in Tanzania. Recently, this program delivered its 1 millionth vaccine to domestic dogs in the areas surrounding Serengeti National Park, with life-saving results for both animals and humans.

The role of domestic dogs in Tanzania is much different from our pampered pooches here in the United States. Most dogs in the rural villages surrounding the Serengeti are working dogs. They are typically used for herding cattle, goats, and sheep, and for livestock protection (from wildlife and thieves), and home protection. For the households that own dogs, they are an essential part of their lives and livelihoods. The illness or death of their dogs can lead to devastating livestock losses for subsistent families that are already very impoverished. These dogs are really amazing animals and work hard to help keep their herds and families safe.

Indiana ONE members at Sen. Lugar's office

Villagers willingly travel long distances to get their dogs vaccinated.

Keeping the rabies viruses in check across the vast lands and animal species of the Serengeti requires an ongoing and vital commitment. Animals with rabies suffer symptoms including fever, seizures, abnormal behaviors, aggression and disorientation – a very sad end. After exposure, usually from a bite by an infected domestic dog, humans may experience flu-like symptoms and hallucination, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Children are particularly vulnerable to this deadly virus due to their closer proximity to the dogs. The virus can kill anyone infected in just a few days. However, the good news is these deaths are preventable, and thanks to Lincoln Park Zoo’s Serengeti Health Initiative, countless domestic dogs and an estimated 1,350 human lives have been saved.

The Lincoln Park Zoo’s Serengeti Health Initiative began in 2003 with team members administering vaccines to domestic dogs in small towns and remote villages in northern Tanzania to shield the park’s many wild animals from the killer diseases. For the past nine years, they have traveled back and forth to communities off the beaten path in Tanzania to deliver and administer these lifesaving vaccines. They often have to abandon their vehicles and take the dirt paths, walking boma to boma (as their traditional dwellings are called) to leave no dog unvaccinated. It is a hot and tiring job, but one that has been well worth it. The zoo team worked collaboratively with several universities, Tanzanian authorities, and MSD Animal Health, who generously donated the vaccines free of charge. Thanks to the program, critically endangered African wild dogs have returned to the Serengeti ecosystem after 20 years, and the populations of carnivores like the majestic African lion have rebounded. This incredible achievement has been reached with the help of conservationists and the Tanzania-based staff of the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Congressman Quigley
Lincoln Park Zoo Tanzanian staff with Maasai villagers and dog in northern TZ

The results? Rabies has been eliminated in wildlife and domestic dogs in the region. Crucially, there have been no human cases of rabies in the vaccination zone in several years. I am delighted to say that this project has become hugely popular with the local communities, with many families willingly traveling long distances to ensure their dogs, and by extension, their families are protected from these fatal viruses.

Lincoln Park Zoo’s Director of Tanzania Programs Felix Lankester really sums it up best, saying, “This is rare win-win situation for both wildlife and people. Rabies in Serengeti wildlife has been eliminated, rabies in domestic animals has been eliminated, and the number of rabies cases in humans has dropped to zero.”

A lifesaving investment in vaccines…. now that’s money well spent!

Representative Mike Quigley
5th District of Illinois