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Oral vaccination campaign will use goat meat baits to pre-empt outbreaks of rabies among Ethiopian wolves
There are less than 500 Ethiopian wolves in the wild, all highly exposed to infectious diseases transmitted by domestic dogs.
There are less than 500 Ethiopian wolves in the wild, all highly exposed to infectious diseases transmitted by domestic dogs. Photograph: Claudio Sillero/EWCP
By Damian Carrington | Environment editor
Rabies vaccines hidden inside goat meat baits have been deployed in the first campaign to protect the Ethiopian wolf, Africa’s most endangered carnivore.
There are less than 500 of the wolves in the high mountains of Ethiopia and they are very vulnerable to infectious diseases from domestic dogs. The oral vaccine approach will next be rolled out to cover all six surviving populations of the wolf.
“Thirty years ago I witnessed an outbreak of rabies which killed the majority of the wolves I had followed closely for my doctoral studies,” said Prof Claudio Sillero, director of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP), a partnership between the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit and the Born Free Foundation. “We now know that pre-emptive vaccination is necessary to save many wolves from a horrible death and to keep the small and isolated populations outside the vortex of extinction.”
Earlier trials showed the wolves preferred goat meat baits to rat meat or intestines and that delivery on horseback and at night into a pack’s territory meant fewer baits were eaten by other animals. Tests showed that almost 90% of the wolves eating the bait developed immunity.
The first immunisation campaign took place over the last month and EWCP’s Muktar Abute said automated cameras showed that nearly all the 119 baits set out among three wolf packs were eaten. “Our target is to immunise at least 40% of all wolves in each population, reaching as many family packs as possible, including the dominant pair, on which pack stability largely depends,” he said.
Trials showed the wolves preferred goat meat baits to rat meat or intestines.
The long-legged and red-furred wolves live above 10,000 feet (3,000m) in the highlands of Ethiopia, but their habitat has been increasingly encroached upon by shepherds and farmers and their grazing livestock. Even worse, the dogs brought in by people transmit rabies and canine distemper to the wolves.
Four major rabies outbreaks have been recorded in the last three decades, killing dozens of wolves each time. The oral vaccines now being used to protect them have a good track record. Twenty million doses were dropped in baits across Europe from 1978 to 2010 and rabies was eliminated in red foxes.