Biophilia, our inherent love of living things, is a major driver of the modern conservation ethic worldwide. Australians are particularly fond of wildlife and consequently, our fauna are key to our national image. As a nation, we are known for our relatively carefree attitude towards some of the world's most dangerous animals, including venomous snakes and spiders, as well as sharks. This has arisen largely because we are familiar with these species, understand the actual level of risk they pose and have some idea of how to safely interact with them.
Unfortunately, the relationship between Australians and our wildlife could change significantly. Canine rabies, an infamous, fatal, viral zoonosis, is now less than 300 kilometers from the Australian matiinland. We must face the possibility of a ‘when’, rather than ‘if’ scenario and begin to plan for rabies management on a continent where virtually the entire population is naïve.
Human and animal health would be affected. People, domestic animals and wildlife may die. Perhaps worse, in terms of scale, is the likely change in the Australian way of life, including the way we perceive, value and interact with wildlife, pets and livestock. Of course, rabies is endemic in many other countries and people continue to actively engage in conservation programs, but these people have had a long time to come to terms with the risk in their midst and many undergo prophylactic vaccination to enable them to work with wildlife.
Here, we discuss Australia's impending future with particular regard to how canine rabies could change our lives, the impacts it could have on wildlife conservation and the steps we must take to be prepared.