We believe that as both pet owners and residents of an island which has enjoyed a rabies free status for 117 years, this is something we should all be aware of. We certainly aren't calling for major panic but we feel that it can't do any harm to improve the knowledge of fellow animal lovers across all of Ireland.
All information is correct to the best of our knowledge.
It seems that the sable (a species of marten, a small carnivorous mammal primarily inhabiting the forest environments of Russia) was imported to Ireland from a fur farm in Russia with his owner intending for him to be a much loved pet.
On arrival at Heathrow Animal Reception Centre, the rabies vaccine which should have been administered before departure from his original country was found to be 'non-compliant'. A rabies vaccine was at this point administered and the sable served 21 days in quarantine before continuing his journey to Ireland.
We are unsure as to why 21 days in quarantine was seen as sufficient in this case. To our knowledge, the import of a category 2 exotic animal which is not a dog, cat or ferret should have been subject to 4 months quarantine since it did not originate from a Balai approved or EU rabies free country. It may be that these rules are changed as the animal was being forwarded on to Ireland after import to the UK, but we will be following closely for an official answer as to why this was the case. For anyone who would like more info on this, we would suggest starting with 'Notes for Guidance for the Application for a Licence to Import Rabies Susceptible Live Animals other than Pet Dogs, Cats and Ferrets (Form RM01)' from the UK Animal and Plant Health Agency.
We are not vets or specialists in the import of exotic animals, so this is only our interpretation of the law. If anyone is more knowledgable than us on this topic, we are more than happy to be educated.
We have also been unable to clarify whether the rabies vaccine used has been clinically tested and licenced for use in this species, so if anyone can clarify this for us then we are also happy to learn in regards to this topic.
We do know that a study was performed in ferrets (a reasonably close relative of the sable, again we are unable to find detailed studies of rabies in the sable species), in which the mean incubation period for rabies was 33 days (range, 16 to 96 days). An incubation period for a disease is the period between exposure to an infection and the appearance of the first symptoms, so a quarantine of 21 days may not have been sufficient to observe symptoms if infection took place prior to arrival in the UK.
The animal in question was seized by authorities, has been euthanized and his body is currently being tested for rabies. So far it has not been confirmed but tests on January 23rd at the European Reference Laboratory (EURL) "reported evidence of low levels of lyssavirus genetic material in brain samples from the animal".
The sable shared his home with at least one other animal, a dog, who is being quarantined but is not at this time being considered a potential victim.
Until we hear of a definitive postmortem diagnosis, we would encourage pet owners across the entire island to advocate for the animals they adore by being knowledgeable and aware.
We particularly ask those in the precautionary surveillance zone in County Cork to be respectful of the temporary measures, which include a ban on gatherings of dogs, cats or ferrets, including hunting, sales, fairs etc, and if mammals are found dead in this area then this should be reported to DAFM.
These temporary measures will remain in place in for a month subject to review.
Owners of dogs, cats and ferrets are advised to monitor the health and behaviour of their animals and report any abnormal or unusual behaviour to DAFM.
Anyone in the surveillance zone who requires further information can contact the DAFM Regional Office in Cork on 021 4851400.