More Ethiopian Wolves Successfully Immunized From Rabies, Vaccines May Save Them From Extinction

First Posted: Sep 08, 2016 06:36 AM EDT

Over the years, numerous studies and experiments have been conducted to save Ethiopian wolves from extinction. They are currently in danger due to high levels of rabies. This was discovered by Claudio Sillero-Zubiri during his field season in 1991 in the highlands of Ethiopia's Bale Mountains for his PhD research. Fast forward to present time, he and his colleagues suggest that immunizing these wolves against rabies could help boost their population.

Sillero-Zubiri was searching for the Ethiopian wolves, which during that time were already known as the world's rarest canid. Instead of finding them alive, he found their corpses. Years after, he and his team identified four major rabies outbreaks among these wolves in the Bale Mountains. Every virus hit has led to a huge population decline. The four outbreaks occurred in 1991, 2003, 2008, and 2014. As of writing, there are only less than 500 Ethiopian wolves remaining in the wild. According to National Geographic, this is due to repeated outbreaks,;not to mention habitat loss.

Meanwhile, as earlier mentioned, Sillero-Zubiri and his colleagues suggest that vaccination programs may be an effective solution to the wolves' crisis. In Europe and North America, such programs have helped control rabies in domestic and wild animals. According to Sillero-Zubiri, "The big rabies outbreaks are catastrophic, but this vaccine could make a big difference."

In their series of experiments, Sillero-Zubiri first tried injectable vaccines; however, capturing was too time-consuming, costly, and stressful for the animals. Consequently, researchers opted for oral rabies vaccine. They needed to have the vaccine packet laced with bait for the wolves to find. After trying different types of baits, they ended up with goat meat and intestines.

The oral vaccine was a success. 21 wolves were captured after administrating the vaccines and 14 tested positive for the chemical that showed they had ingested the vaccine. The chemical was harmless. 86 percent of these wolves were immunized against rabies.

"Even immunizing just half of the wolf population would make a huge difference for conservation purposes." This was according to William Karesh, executive vice president for health and policy at EcoHealth Alliance.  Karesh was not involved in the research.

As of writing, the fight to save Ethiopian wolves from extinction continues. According to EWCP, these animals serve as the guardians of Africa's roof and protecting them means protecting Afroalpine endemics from extinction as well.

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