'It must stop one day': Outcry erupts over Tunisia's campaign to kill stray dogs
Authorities in several Tunisian cities launched a new campaign to kill stray dogs in late July, an annual practice called barbaric by animal rights organisations. However, this year, the authorities have gone a step further – hiring hunters to help city workers track down the dogs. Tunisian activists contacted our team about what they call “carnage”.
Warning: Readers may find some of the images included in this article shocking
The governorate of Tunis announced on July 21 a campaign to kill stray dogs in the capital and several other cities across the country. The stated aim was to “assure the safety of citizens and tourists while protecting the city’s aesthetics.”
The statement added that the cities would work with local hunters’ associations on the culling campaign. Local officials claimed that they would simultaneously work with local veterinary associations to continue vaccination and sterilisation campaigns. However, some of these very same associations that the authorities claimed were partners took to social media to condemn the killings.
Some of them shared posts showing images of dogs who had been shot and killed, then abandoned in the street. Sometimes the animal is still alive, often seriously injured, and lying in agony in a pool of blood.
The people who shared these video clips don’t mince words when it comes to the authorities.
'It made me sick… They even killed puppies'
Khadija, a British citizen who volunteers with organisations that help stray animals, has lived for more than two years in the centre of Hammamet. On the morning of June 18, she found that several stray dogs that she often fed, had been shot and killed by city workers.
I didn’t see them shooting , but arrived when the streets were full of bodies before they sent people to remove them. At first I saw one dog in the road, a dog I loved. It looked like she was hit by a car. I got out of my car to check on her. A few local people said 'It was the city government, there are more.'
That night I just saw a few killed but I heard there were around 50 killed in that night. And we have had many nights of shootings. I couldn’t look for more bodies, it made me sick, I cried uncontrollably for a few days, I felt numb. They even killed puppies.
'We always lose to these barbaric acts'
It was very distressing and the first time I’ve witnessed something like that. I do all I can like many others to protect, vaccinate and sterilize as many dogs as I can, but it’s never enough and we always loose to these barbaric acts. It must stop one day.
We are often out of stock of the rabies vaccination even for domestic animals. Even when sterilization is open, the general public or animal rescuers have no access to the facility, but many of us would volunteer.
However, the Tunisian government promised in 2020 to stop these killing campaigns, which are regularly carried out by the municipal police in Tunisia and denounced by animal rights organisations.
In 2021, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child said in a report that exposing children to violence carried out on animals could harm a child’s moral development and recommended that Tunisia should stop these practices.
The Tunisia Animals Voice Collective wrote a letter to the Tunisian president in December 2021, calling for the necessity to create an animal protection law that would put a stop to killings and develop sterilisation and vaccination campaigns for stray animals. The same collective launched an online petition with the same aim, that has garnered more than 44,000 signatures.
'The solution is simple: feed them, sterilise them and vaccinate them'
Malika is the founder of Tunisia Animal Voices, a collective that gathers images and testimony about violence towards animals and calls on the authorities and Tunisian associations to help:
We’re trying to mobilise as many people as possible online against these killings. Often, city officials will make an announcement on Facebook that they are going to begin killing dogs, so that’s when we should flood the comments section with messages condemning this practice. In 2020, the mayor of Tunis responded to this, even if she later backtracked on her anti-killing statements.
One of the many volunteers working on the ground is veterinarian Dr Soumaya Chouk. She travels to different cities trying to convince them to opt for the TNR method (“Trap-Neuter-Release”) to curb overpopulation and combat rabies.
The Tunisian state offers rabies vaccines to animals who have an owner. But they don’t provide services to stray animals. Then, they later kill these same animals, claiming that they have rabies.
If there is an increase in rabies numbers, it is the direct result of the government’s policies.
The solution is simple: feed them, sterilise them and vaccinate them.
An increasing number of Tunisian cities have stated their intention to open shelters and begin sterilisation programs, including Sousse, Raoued and Radès. But they lack financial and medical resources. An Italian-Tunisian organisation, L’arca Di Noé (Noah’s Ark), made an offer to the Tunisian ministry of the interior in 2021 to provide logistical and financial support to governorates who want to follow this project. Other municipalities, like Djerba, categorically refuse to adopt the TNR method, citing locals who want a more radical solution to the overpopulation of dogs on the island.