Zanzibar is an archipelago off the coast of East Africa and a popular tourist destination known for its pristine beaches and unique culture. Sadly, the islands are also home to a significant stray population of cats and dogs. While the exact number is unknown, it is estimated that tens of thousands of strays roam the streets of the island, and their presence has become an increasingly pressing issue.
The origins of this stray population are complex. In Zanzibar, cats and dogs are seen as pests but rarely as companions. Invasive species, such as rats and snakes, frequently invade Zanzibari homes, and cats and dogs are often seen as a viable solution to this problem. Unfortunately, this solution leads to an increase in the stray population, as cats and dogs are rarely spayed or neutered. Furthermore, many of the island’s residents are unable to care for their pets, leading to a further increase in the stray population.
The presence of strays in the islands has had a negative impact on both the environment and the health of the local population. Stray cats and dogs are often malnourished and carry a range of diseases, including rabies, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukaemia virus (FeLV), and parasites such as fleas, ticks and worms. While these diseases can be fatal to cats, they can also be spread to humans, leading to a range of health issues. As well as this, the presence of strays can be a nuisance to tourists and locals alike, creating a hostile atmosphere.
In order to address this growing problem, a number of initiatives have been introduced in recent years. These initiatives include the establishment of animal shelters, the provision of veterinary care, and the promotion of spaying and neutering. Furthermore, educational campaigns have been launched to raise awareness of the issue and encourage responsible pet ownership. While these initiatives have had some success, the stray population in Zanzibar remains a major issue. In order to effectively tackle this problem, it is important that all stakeholders, including the government, NGOs, and local communities, work together to find a sustainable solution. Only then will the stray population in Zanzibar be brought under control.
Dr Gemma Campling and volunteer coordinator Sarah Kickhofel, ventured out to the island to partake in a sterilisation and rabies inoculation campaign along with the Spay Sisters, an incredible group of vets who travel the world, sterilising dogs and cats in the communities who need it most. The team started off in Pongwe, their clinic being a small sheltered area apart of a minimalistic eco-lodge. The team quickly realised that there was a need to reach out further into the community to tackle the large numbers of unsterilised animals. The team moved all of their supplies into a small village, Kiwengwa, where they took the opportunity to perform spays and castrates in the open view of the public eye. This created a stir, all of a sudden loads of animals were being brought in, the team was being asked to come out and collect strays that were living in local homes, speaking to restaurant owners who had strays coming into their stores and begging for food on a regular basis.
From Pongwe, they travelled up to Nungwi, and were very kindly placed in Kendwa Rocks hotel for three nights. The clinic was located at a local expats home, where she opened her arms and allowed the team to use her space as their own for the next three days. The team jumped into full swing and the home quickly turned into a hive of activity, cats meowing, animals being passed smoothly from one station to the next, owners bringing in their beloved animals and taking an interest in the processes which the vets had effortlessly executed. The next few days rolled over and the process restarted for the following two mornings.
The time at Kendwa Rocks had come to an end, and the team were relocated into a small local villa, not far from the Kendra Rocks hotel. Along with this move came the relocation of the clinic, onto Mkokotoni football field, in the middle of local housing and communities. The placement of this clinic, under a marquee and hard to miss by the public eye, was flooded with interest by the children who played soccer on the field before school. Quickly the word got out and children disappeared, reappearing after a few minutes with rice bags containing, yes you guessed it, squirming cats. The team saw a busy two days on the football field, while guiding and teaching the local vets the ways of flank spays and neatening up castrations. A great two days were achieved on the football field with the vets enjoying educating the children and adults who took an interest in the procedures.
The trip down to Paje was a two hour journey in the Dala Dala, a flatbed truck which had been converted into an open bus. Again the team had been welcomed by an expat who generously offered her villa as accommodation, and the clinic a close one minute walk away from the house. Half of the team had set up underneath a cluster of trees, providing shade from the Zanzibari sun, situated next to a small store which provided the team with cold drinks and snacks throughout the day. Amongst this was a well, a central point for the community as they go about their daily routine of collecting water for their homes. The other half of the team were at another local villa tending to dogs and cats being brought in by the expats in the area.
The overall trip had been wonderfully inspiring and eye opening. The people of Zanzibar were welcoming and kind, doing the best to assist and learn along the way. Thanks to this, the team looks forward to coming back onto the island to assist further in controlling the stray population and improving the coexistence between the Zanzibari people and stray animals.