Israel has experienced a major upswing in canine rabies cases since 2009. There had been a significant decline since 2003, when oral rabies vaccination of foxes was started, but the recent increase has been in dogs and jackals, not foxes. Now, stray jackals and dogs are the main rabies vectors in northeastern Israel, the area affected by the current outbreak.
Stray dogs are a significant concern in terms of rabies because they can have close contact with humans and wildlife. Dogs are the most common source of human rabies internationally and thousands of people die each year from rabies acquired from dogs.
The increase in rabies in stray dogs and jackals has lead to discussions about how to control the stray population and reduce the risk of rabies. Previously, it was common for authorities to shoot strays in parks and nature reserves. This practice was stopped a while ago, however the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has now asked for permission to shoot strays in the interest of rabies control. The proposed regulations would allow strays to be shot in national parks, reserves, and "any other open area where wildlife species are considered at risk", but not unless their presence poses "an immediate discernible risk to wildlife and never within 1 km of human habitation."
This seems to be a wildlife protection program disguised as a rabies control program. The emphasis is on protection of wildlife, since packs of stray dogs have had major impacts on some endangered wildlife (e.g. fallow deer). It’s not really a good rabies control program, since culling alone is unlikely to be effective, and only culling when the dogs pose a risk to wildlife and away from human habitation presumably would only have a limited impact on the prevention of human rabies. If they want to control the dog population to protect endangered species, they should just say that. If they want to control rabies, they need a comprehensive rabies control program that involves consideration of various approaches such as vaccination of strays and jackals, sterilization of strays, public education to decrease the risk of exposure, and vaccination of domestic animals. A cull alone won’t cut it for rabies control.
Photo: A pair of Golden Jackals (Canis aureus) in Israel (photo credit: Michael Baranovsky)(click for source)