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Don’t Feed the Animals

Categories: Disease Investigation, Zoonotic Disease

Juvenile zebra standing in safari

When you think of rabies you probably think of stray dogs, bats, or raccoons. CDC staff stationed in Kenya recently learned that when it comes to rabies, it’s not always the usual suspects you have to worry about. This August they were hit with an unusual case of rabies in a baby zebra who had taken up residency at a Kenyan safari lodge. The lodge caters to international tourists from all over the world, and it took a herculean effort by the Kenyan Ministry of Health, CDC, and the World Health Organization to track down everyone who might have been exposed to the deadly disease.

Close Encounters

A view outside the safari lodge in Kenya. Giraffes dot the horizon.Most people who travel to Kenya are looking for close encounters with exotic animals like lions, giraffes, and yes, zebras. Visitors to this particular safari lodge considered themselves lucky when they got to meet Zoe, an orphaned zebra the lodge had adopted. Who doesn’t love baby animals, especially ones as striking as a zebra? Guests were able to visit Zoe up close in the stables where they could feed and pet her. She would nibble on her admirer’s fingers and lick them as they offered treats.

Of course, if you know anything about rabies alarm bells are probably going off in your head right now. The rabies virus is transmitted through saliva, so each visitor who let Zoe nibble or lick them was potentially exposed to the deadly disease.

R.I.P. Zoe

Why would guests be so eager to pet a rabid animal? Well, Zoe wasn’t showing symptoms yet, in fact she could have been carrying the disease for several months before she actually became symptomatic. Even when she did show signs of illness, staff thought she had a common gastrointestinal ailment. Once Zoe died, the lodge sent her remains to the Ministry of Agriculture to determine what the cause of death was. That’s when the startling news came back that Zoe had actually died of rabies. Things kicked into high gear as the lodge worked with the Kenyan Ministry of Health and the Kenyan Wildlife Services to investigate the case and identify nearly 200 guests that had come in contact with Zoe.

Tracking Exposure

Slide showing positive results for rabies virusTourists that had visited Zoe came from 17 different countries and although the safari lodge and Kenya Ministry of Health initially tried to contact each person, they soon realized they were going to need international help. Luckily, CDC has a field office in Kenya and were able to help track down the U.S. visitors that might have been exposed.

“Having CDC on location made this much easier and the response much more rapid.” Said Joel Montgomery, Director of the International Emerging Infectious Disease Program. “This is a great example of why it’s important to have staff deployed in the field before an incident happens.”

CDC staff stationed in Kenya, including members of the Kenyan Field Epidemiology Laboratory Training Program, were able to work alongside local officials, confirming the rabies case, identifying those exposed, and getting important information out to tourists. CDC-Kenya and the Rabies Team back in Atlanta were able to direct tourists to doctors and answer their questions about the disease and possible exposure.

To date, no one has become ill from the incident, which may be attributed to the quick action by the various parties involved. This case is a good reminder that when you visit countries like Kenya, where rabies is endemic, you can never be too careful. Sometimes it’s better to experience the wildlife from a distance rather than up-close and personal.

Learn More

Want to know more about rabies? Visit CDC’s rabies site for more on the disease and how you can keep yourself and your family safe. Also learn more about what CDC is doing in Kenya and the Kenyan Field Epidemiology Laboratory Training Program, who CDC is a proud partner of.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever had a close encounter with wild animals, did you think about the possibility of rabies?

Thank you to Joel Montgomery, Emily Lankau, and Michael Niezgoda for contributing to this post.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. November 9, 2011 at 4:33 pm ET  -   Brad Michael Moore

    I was hoping to read a wider ranging story to go with the title, “Don’t Feed the Animals.” You see people all over the world – especially those who live in rural areas, and are better exposed to wild animals least understand why you should not feed wild animals. When one goes to a Public Zoo, or a state park, or a national park – almost anywhere – the public sees signs – “Don’t Feed the Animals.” Rarely is it explained why! Rabies is only the tip of the iceberg as to the reasons why people should not feed wild animals.
    Personal Experience:
    My mom lives in rural Texas, USA. She feeds feral cats, Raccoons, and opossums. The food attracts more insects (like ants & spiders) and these insects attract small snakes – which attract larger snakes. Mom throws chicken scratch & sunflower seed out in the yard for the birds, and sometimes, dry dog food for the coons – to keep them away the porch doors. When she opens a door to throw out food – the raccoons rush her and try to take the food right out of her hands! Sometimes – fighting each other for position, mom gets nipped on her leg or hands. The food in the yard attracts feral pigs that root up the ground making it dangerous to walk for people. The extra food given daily means the raccoon mothers’ have 4 to 5 babies – instead of 2 or 3. The feral cat females will have up to 7 kittens each instead of 3-5. Having all these wild animals concentrated in a small area – 100 feet from a natural pond (water source) that is wooded behind – gives cover for predators to come up. In our case – we have an ancient creek that rolls through the woods – so bobcats and Mountain Lion (American Puma). These predators do not distinguish between pets and wild animals – so I have lost some of my house cats, and I have seen a Puma chasing one of my dogs who ventured too close to the pond. I ran between my dog and the Puma and it stopped pursuit and returned to the tall grass at the pond’s dam. I live this nightmare because my elderly mother, 81, thinks the wild animals need her help.
    Sincerely, BMM

    Link to this comment

  2. November 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm ET  -   Brad Michael Moore

    I was hoping to read a wider ranging story to go with the title, “Don’t Feed the Animals.” You see people all over the world – especially those who live in rural areas, are more widely exposed to wild animals and they least understand why we should not feed wild animals. When one goes to a Public Zoo, or a state park, or a national park – almost anywhere – the public sees signs – “Don’t Feed the Animals.” Rarely is it explained why! Rabies is only the tip of the iceberg as to the reasons why people should not feed wild animals.
    Personal Experience:
    My mom lives in rural Texas, USA. She feeds feral cats, raccoons, and opossums. The food attracts more insects (like flies, ants & spiders) and these insects attract small snakes – which attract larger snakes. Mom throws chicken scratch & sunflower seed out in the yard for the birds, and sometimes, dry dog food for the coons – to keep them away the porch doors. Still, when she opens a door to throw out food at night – the raccoons rush up to her and try to take the food right out of her hands! Sometimes – fighting each other for position, mom gets nipped on her leg or hands. Her doctor goes nuts when we talk of this. The food in the yard attracts feral pigs that root up the ground making it dangerous to walk over for people. The extra food given daily means the raccoon mothers’ have 4 to 5 babies – instead of 2 or 3. The feral cat females will have up to 7 kittens each instead of 3-5. Having all these wild animals concentrated in a small area – 100 feet from a natural pond (water source) that is wooded behind – gives cover (and elements of attraction) for predators to come up. In our case – we have an ancient creek that rolls through the woods – so bobcats and Mountain Lion (American Puma) will visit. These predators do not distinguish between our pets and the other wild animals – so I have lost some of my house cats, and I have seen a Puma chasing one of my dogs – who ventured too close to the pond. I ran between my dog and the Puma and it stopped pursuit – returning to the tall grass at the pond’s dam. I live this nightmare because my elderly mother, 81, thinks the wild animals need her help.
    Sincerely, BMM
    corrected

    Link to this comment

  3. November 9, 2011 at 7:08 pm ET  -   Brad Michael Moore

    I was hoping to read a wider ranging story to go with the title, “Don’t Feed the Animals.” You see people all over the world – especially those who live in rural areas, are more widely exposed to wild animals and they least understand why we should not feed wild animals. When one goes to a Public Zoo, or a state park, or a national park – almost anywhere – the public sees signs – “Don’t Feed the Animals.” Rarely is it explained why! Rabies is only the tip of the iceberg as to the reasons why people should not feed wild animals.
    Personal Experience:
    My mom lives in rural Texas, USA. She feeds feral cats, raccoons, and opossums. The food attracts more insects (like flies, ants & spiders) and these insects attract small snakes – which attract larger snakes. Mom throws chicken scratch & sunflower seed out in the yard for the birds, and sometimes, dry dog food for the coons – to keep them away the porch doors. Still, when she opens a door to throw out food at night – the raccoons rush up to her and try to take the food right out of her hands! Sometimes – fighting each other for position, mom gets nipped on her leg or hands. Her doctor goes nuts when we talk of this. The food in the yard attracts feral pigs that root up the ground making it dangerous to walk over for people. The extra food given daily means the raccoon mothers’ have 4 to 5 babies – instead of 2 or 3. The feral cat females will have up to 7 kittens each instead of 3-5. Having all these wild animals concentrated in a small area – 100 feet from a natural pond (water source) that is wooded behind – gives cover (and elements of attraction) for predators to come up. In our case – we have an ancient creek that rolls through the woods – so bobcats and Mountain Lion (American Puma) will visit. These predators do not distinguish between our pets and the other wild animals – so I have lost some of my house cats, and I have seen a Puma chasing one of my dogs – who ventured too close to the pond. I ran between my dog and the Puma and it stopped pursuit – returning to the tall grass at the pond’s dam. I live this nightmare because my elderly mother, 81, thinks the wild animals need her help. What she has created – is a fraudulent area Eco-system which is not sustainable after she is gone.
    Sincerely, BMM

    Link to this comment

  4. November 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm ET  -   Chelsie

    I was once bitten by an unvaccinated ill cat at a clinic where I used to work. The test for the cat came back negative for rabies but it was still scary. This is why I think required vaccination of cats for rabies should be in effect just like it is for dogs. Cats are more likely to come into contact with an animal potienal for rabies like bats and skunks. I think it would just be another helpful safety measure.

    Link to this comment

  5. November 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm ET  -   rubi

    HI =)

    Link to this comment

  6. November 17, 2011 at 2:50 am ET  -   mitral valve

    Excellent Article! Thank you for such a comprehensive post!

    Link to this comment

  7. November 20, 2011 at 7:27 pm ET  -   ale

    Thanks so much for the article. I really liked it.

    Link to this comment

  8. December 15, 2011 at 11:23 pm ET  -   Thiết kế tờ rơi

    Great post. Thank you very much

    Link to this comment

  9. December 21, 2011 at 1:41 pm ET  -   Jose Antonio- Seguridad privada

    How can people feed the animals, they know its dangerous, i think you have to be so inconcient. Well, this has been a great article man.

    Link to this comment

  10. July 18, 2012 at 10:23 am ET  -   Bella

    A friend of mine found a baby raccoon and began to feed it with a bottle and then introduced it to food. After about 2 and a half or three weeks the coon seemed ill. My friend was going to feed it one day and he startled it and it bite him on the hand. He is worried about rabies because of the coon acting ill. What should he do?

    Link to this comment

  11. July 18, 2012 at 11:46 am ET  -   Blog Administrator

    We’re sorry to hear about that. Unfortunately this blog is not designed to provide medical guidance. We strongly encourage you to consult your physician for medical advice. Thank you

    Link to this comment

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