• Reuppell's Fox, also known as the Sand fox, is 1 of 3 fox species in Iraq (Fennec and Red also occur here). Sand foxes are shy and not a threat to humans, and 157 tests conducted in Anbar Province last year exhibited zero instances of rabies. 15 Feb

    Sustainers protect themselves, wildlife

    Reuppell's Fox, also known as the Sand fox, is 1 of 3 fox species in Iraq (Fennec and Red also occur here). Sand foxes are shy and not a threat to humans, and 157 tests conducted in Anbar Province last year exhibited zero instances of rabies. 15...

  • Honey badger, a native animal caught and released in Al Asad, Iraq, Feb. 5. Many animals are checked by the vetenarians, some vaccinated or treated for minor problems, then released back into the Iraqi countryside.

    Sustainers protect themselves, wildlife

    Honey badger, a native animal caught and released in Al Asad, Iraq, Feb. 5. Many animals are checked by the vetenarians, some vaccinated or treated for minor problems, then released back into the Iraqi countryside.

  • An Indian crested porcupine, a native animal caught and released in Al Asad, Iraq. The porcupine was checked by the vetenarians and released back into the Iraqi countryside when he was found to be healthy.

    Sustainers protect themselves, wildlife

    An Indian crested porcupine, a native animal caught and released in Al Asad, Iraq. The porcupine was checked by the vetenarians and released back into the Iraqi countryside when he was found to be healthy.

  • Jungle cats, a native animal is caught in Al Asad, Iraq and released back in Feb. 11. These cats are somewhat protected in Iraq, however Nature Iraq (the NGO responsible for conserving Iraq's wildlife) urges a conservative approach. Many animals are checked by the vetenarians, some vaccinated or treated for minor problems, then released back into the Iraqi countryside if they are healthy.

    Sustainers protect themselves, wildlife

    Jungle cats, a native animal is caught in Al Asad, Iraq and released back in Feb. 11. These cats are somewhat protected in Iraq, however Nature Iraq (the NGO responsible for conserving Iraq's wildlife) urges a conservative approach. Many animals are...

  • A Magpie, a bird caught and released in Al Asad, Iraq, April 2. Many animals are checked by the vetenarians, some vaccinated or treated for minor problems, then released back into the Iraqi countryside.

    Sustainers protect themselves, wildlife

    A Magpie, a bird caught and released in Al Asad, Iraq, April 2. Many animals are checked by the vetenarians, some vaccinated or treated for minor problems, then released back into the Iraqi countryside.

  • A Jungle cat, a native animal is caught in Al Asad, Iraq and released back in Feb. 4. These cats are somewhat protected in Iraq, however Nature Iraq (the NGO responsible for conserving Iraq's wildlife) urges a conservative approach. Many of homes, the wetlands, are being destroyed by development, or the cats are hunted for fur and poisoned by farmers. It does warrant listing as vulnerable or even threatened in Iraq, and possibly as a subspecies, but the challenge is that there have been no studies in Iraq for over 30 years.

    Sustainers protect themselves, wildlife

    A Jungle cat, a native animal is caught in Al Asad, Iraq and released back in Feb. 4. These cats are somewhat protected in Iraq, however Nature Iraq (the NGO responsible for conserving Iraq's wildlife) urges a conservative approach. Many of homes, the...

  • A female black francolin, a bird caught in Al Asad, Iraq, Feb. 12. Many Iraqi critters are checked by the vetenarians, some vaccinated or treated for minor problems, then released back into the Iraqi countryside.

    Sustainers protect themselves, wildlife

    A female black francolin, a bird caught in Al Asad, Iraq, Feb. 12. Many Iraqi critters are checked by the vetenarians, some vaccinated or treated for minor problems, then released back into the Iraqi countryside.

  • Rook, a bird caught and released in Al Asad, Iraq, Feb. 8. Many animals are checked by the vetenarians, some are vaccinated or treated for minor problems, then released back into the Iraqi countryside.

    Sustainers protect themselves, wildlife

    Rook, a bird caught and released in Al Asad, Iraq, Feb. 8. Many animals are checked by the vetenarians, some are vaccinated or treated for minor problems, then released back into the Iraqi countryside.

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq - An Army vaccination program to protect service members and local wildlife from rabies has been going on here and throughout Iraq for more than two and a half years.

Wild animals, like foxes and stray dogs, are captured in traps, inspected by Army veterinarians for any evidence of disease - especially rabies - tagged and then released, said Maj. Randel Rogers, a native of Columbus, Ohio, and a logistics officer with the 371st Sustainment Brigade here.

"We vaccinate them to make sure that they don't have rabies," he said. "So we can make sure that the population of the wildlife around our base are safe and are not spreading any disease that could affect us."

Rabies is a viral disease which causes acute encephalitis (an inflammation of brain tissue). Typically, humans are infected after receiving a bite from an infected animal, usually through its saliva. The virus begins with flu-like symptoms, but once it reaches the central nervous system death could result in a matter of days.

A recent boom in pet populations led to an increase in reported cases in Africa and Asia, where rabies kills more than 55,000 people every year, according to a report from the World Health Organization.

"[The program] is important because rabies is endemic in the country," said Capt. Brian Smith, of Houston, Texas, 64th Medical Detachment, and officer in charge of veterinary service for Multi-National Forces-West.

"There has been confirmed rabies in the country of Iraq," and many people were probably exposed to rabid animals and not aware of it, he said. Smith, though, was quick to point out he knew of no rabid animals found here or on other Coalition bases in western Iraq, which is his area of responsibility.

However, the vaccination program does not simply protect service members and local wildlife.

"One of the side effects that we realized on our rabies control program is that we were capturing all this data - because we were capturing all these animals on ours bases," Rogers said.

An amateur naturalist back home with a degree in wildlife management, Rogers partners with an Iraqi non-governmental organization and affiliate of the United Nations Environment Programme, Nature Iraq. Amongst all its other interests, Nature Iraq also endeavors to conduct the first detailed survey of plant and wildlife in Iraq since 1980.

"One of the problems with trying to protect wildlife is first establishing what species live in an area, what habitat they're using, how large the population is," Rogers said. "The more data we get, the clearer picture we'll have."

Such data is particularly helpful with secretive species like the jungle cat, which are poisoned and hunted extensively throughout the Middle East. Through vaccinations and booster shots - if a cat is caught again - the Coalition is helping to preserve a protected species and national treasure of Iraq, Smith said.

Both Smith and Rogers recommend avoiding any contact with wildlife, especially with stray cats or feral dogs, the most common carriers of the rabies virus. This is also why the military implemented policies to prohibit its service members from adopting local pets.

"My recommendation would be: If you are lucky enough to see (a wild animal), keep your distance and try to get a picture," Rogers said.

Page last updated Mon April 13th, 2009 at 07:50