LONDON - Targeted vaccination against rabies and other infectious diseases could save from extinction threatened animals such as the Ethiopian wolf, the world's most endangered member of the dog family.
Instead of immunising entire populations, which is difficult with wild animals, researchers said on Wednesday they have shown that vaccinating about 25-30 percent of Ethiopian wolves could reduce the number of animals dying from rabies.
"You really can vaccinate animals like the Ethiopian wolf safely and effectively against rabies," said Dr Dan Haydon, an ecologist and epidemiologist at the University of Glasgow.
In research published in the journal Nature, he and his colleagues described how low-vaccination programmes and monitoring could curb epidemics among endangered species.
"Coverage levels of 25-30 percent could insure your population against extinction with a considerable amount of confidence," Haydon told Reuters.
The researchers used computer models and vaccination studies to determine effective vaccination policies.
Only about seven populations, totalling 500 Ethiopian wolves, still exist. The rust-coloured animals with long extended snouts live high in the Ethiopian Highlands. They are threatened by rabies and distemper transmitted by domestic dogs.
An outbreak of rabies in the early 1990s killed three-quarters of the wolves in Ethiopia. An emergency vaccination programme was introduced three years ago following another rabies outbreak.
Haydon and scientists from the University of Oxford and the University of Edinburgh analysed data collected by the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP) in their research.
The scientists also suggested monitoring the wolves for early signs of rabies. If two dead animals are found, vaccination of wolves living nearby should be started.
They calculated that immunising between 10-14 percent of the animals in the affected populations could reduce the overall number of deaths.
"We've shown that the vaccination of wildlife, when appropriate and strategically used, is a safe, direct and effective method of reducing extinction threats," said Dr Karen Laurenson, a co-author of the study from the University of Edinburgh.
"With the advent of new generations of oral vaccines, such methods are becoming ever more feasible and cost-effective," she added in a statement.
Story by Patricia Reaney
Story Date: 12/10/2006