Rabies vaccine may save rarest wolf from extinction

A A A

One of the rarest animals in the world might be saved from imminent extinction with the help of a rabies vaccine targeted at the most vulnerable members of the species.

There are no more than about 500 Ethiopian wolves left alive and up to three-quarters of the population were wiped out in a rabies outbreak in 2003. This led scientists to experiment with a targeted vaccination campaign that they believe could save the species from dying out completely in any future rabies outbreaks.

A computer model of the vaccination following the 2003 epidemic suggests that the campaign has worked and that the short-term future of the wolf now looks more secure, according to a study published in the journal Nature. "Ethiopian wolves are the rarest carnivores in the world, restricted to a few mountain enclaves in the Ethiopian highlands," said Claudio Sillero-Zubiri, of Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit.

The wolf is a specialist carnivore feeding on the rodents that live in the high alpine pastures. There are six breeding populations living in the Ethiopian highlands and all of them are susceptible to infections introduced by the domestic dogs of local shepherds. "Canid diseases, such as rabies and distemper transmitted from domestic dogs, pose the most immediate threat to their persistence, and targeted vaccination intervention presents a useful tool to protect the remaining small wolf populations from extinction," Dr Sillero-Zubiri said.

Ethiopian wolves live in some of most inaccessible mountain enclaves of the world and it is difficult to reach some of the remoter packs and capture all their members, he said. As a result it was thought that it would be impossible to carry out the sort of blanket vaccination that was deemed necessary for an effective campaign against the rabies virus.

But the study showed that instead of vaccinating almost every animal, the scientists could get away with inoculating just 30 per cent of the population under the greatest threat of coming into contact with domestic dogs. The modelling study demonstrated that even if rabies outbreaks became more frequent, fewer wolves would need to be vaccinated than under a wholesale vaccine programme in order to virtually eliminate the extinction threat posed by such outbreaks, Dr Sillero-Zubiri said.

"Theoreticians have devoted a lot of effort to working out how to vaccinate populations in ways that prevent epidemics getting started, but this requires coverage that is impractical in wild populations," said Dan Haydon of Glasgow University. "We've looked at vaccination studies that don't prevent all outbreaks, but do reduce the chance of really big outbreaks - ones that could push an endangered population over the extinction threshold."

In the study, 80 wolves were captured and vaccinated. They formed part of the largest breedinggroup of 350 wolves in the Bale Mountains, in the south-east Ethiopian highlands. Dr Sillero-Zubiri said that the wolf still faces long-term threats from climate change and habitat loss, which is driving the remaining populations to higher altitudes. The Oxford team has been working on the preservation of the Ethiopian wolf for 20 years and the scientists work closely with local people and the government.

Karen Laurenson, a member of the research team from Edinburgh University, said: "The vaccination of wildlife, when appropriate and strategically used, is a safe, direct and effective method of reducing extinction threats."

It is hoped that the further development of oral rabies vaccines that can be given in food will in future make it easier to vaccinate the remote wolf populations.

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Telecoms Engineer - Telecoms Administrator - London - £26,000

£26000 per annum + 25 days holiday & further benefits: Ashdown Group: Telecomm...

Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are seeking a confident...

Senior Data Analyst - London - £38,000

£30000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Data Analyst - Lon...

Norwegian Speaking Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London