Until a recent trip to Bali, Indonesia, I thought my respect for nature was enough to keep me from turning into one of those crazy “I was attacked!” stories on Animal Planet. Turns out, you can run into problems with a port’s local wildlife, even if you’re cautious.
I’ve long been an animal whisperer, and I try to embrace creatures of all sizes, from the tiniest bug on up. And yes, I have been guilty of approaching, feeding and showing affection toward strays in the past. But it was really bad luck that caused me to get bit by a monkey AND a dog within the first 48 hours of my trip (thinking back, I should have played the lottery with those chances).
The incidents forced me to fly home five days in, canceling the rest of my two-week trip. The good news: I’m rabies-free, after an intense round of shots. The incident has made me think a little differently about animals I don’t know, however. Here are some things to think about if you’re tempted to bond with the cute and cuddly locals:
Rule 1: Do your research.
Get accustomed with the country before you go, by researching things like culture, laws, disease, health clinics and crime — and how these might impact stray animals and wildlife in the area. Once you’ve got the facts, find out what others had to say about their experiences with four-legged inhabitants. Are the monkeys in Roatan aggressive? Do feral cats in Rome bite? Cruise Critic’s message boards and Tripadvisor are good places to start.
Rule 2: Trust your gut
I was aware of the rabies outbreak in Bali after conducting my usual pre-trip research, and while the monkeys in Ubud’s Monkey Forest aren’t believed to be carriers, I couldn’t keep thoughts of the movie “Outbreak” from my mind. When I voiced my fears at my travel clinic before I left, they told me a vaccination wasn’t necessary. Something about that didn’t sit right, and now I know why. I should have been more proactive with protection, given that I knew there were issues.
Rule 3: If something happens, find out as much as you can about the animal involved
Stray and feral dogs and cats are a real problem in many less developed regions, and animal control is minimal; many families let their pets run free. If you are bitten or exposed to an animal that you believe looks unwell, try to find out as much as you can about it. Take notes on where you saw it, if it had a collar or other identification, if it was wet or dry and any odd or distinguishing characteristics.
Rule 4: Seek medical attention
Locate the nearest medical clinic, preferably an International SOS or other recognized facility, as soon as possible. Anything from a single scratch to a severe bite calls for a doctor’s visit. Keep the wound clean until you can go. There’s typically a seven-day window after the bite to begin rabies treatment. It’s also recommended you get the human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) shots before the vaccination, but many countries have limited or no supplies in stock.
Rule 5: Check your insurance
Depending on your trip, state of health and primary healthcare, it might be a good idea to invest in travel insurance. But even then, you should check the fine print. My travel insurance covered medical emergencies up front, for example, but rabies treatment — which is considered a non-emergency — was reimbursement only. Unfortunately, treatment was too costly overseas, so I had to fly home.
Bottom line: This experience isn’t going to stop me from interacting with animals or doing most of my exploring by foot; I’ll just be more prepared. But it did teach me that animals are more unpredictable than I thought, and you need to get a sense of your safety before getting involved.
• Check out our past Wanderlust Wednesday slideshow of adorable animal photos.
• Learn how to make towel animals, including a monkey that won’t bite!
• Read through all our Royal Caribbean Ship Reviews.