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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 October 2006, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Vaccine hopes for Ethiopian wolf
Ethiopian wolf with its cubs (Image: University of Oxford)
Scientists hope their findings will help secure the wolves' future
A programme of targeted vaccinations could help prevent the spread of rabies among the world's rarest dog, the Ethiopian wolf, scientists suggest.

A team of UK researchers found that targeted reactive measures were more effective than "blanket" vaccination.

As few as 500 of the wolves are left in the wild after an outbreak of the infectious disease in the 1990s wiped out three-quarters of the population.

The findings were presented in the science journal Nature.

The scientists showed that by vaccinating just 30% of the wolves, they were able to reduce the spread of rabies during an outbreak, thereby reducing the number of animals killed by the disease.

Extinction fears

Lead author Dan Haydon, from the University of Glasgow, 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."

Graphic showing location of Bale Mountains (Image: BBC)

Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis) are only found in remote areas of the Bale Mountains, located in the south of the African nation.

"We've looked at vaccination studies that don't prevent all outbreaks, but do reduce the chances of really big outbreaks - one that could push an endangered population over the extinction threshold," Dr Haydon said.

"These strategies turn out to be effective and a lot more practical," he added.

The researchers used modelling to show that even if fewer wolves were vaccinated, a targeted response to an outbreak of rabies would still virtually eliminate the risk of the animals becoming extinct.

They suggested that regular monitoring would allow early detection and a rapid response.

Dr Claudio Sillero-Zubiri, from Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), hoped the findings would help ensure the long-term survival of the wolves.

"Diseases such as rabies and distemper, transmitted from domestic dogs, pose the most immediate threat," he said.

"Targeted vaccination intervention presents a useful tool to protect the remaining wolf populations from extinction."

Rabies ravages rare wolves
27 Nov 03 |  Science/Nature
Growing threat to rare species
28 Sep 00 |  Science/Nature


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