"World's Rarest Dog" Could Be Saved With Rabies Vaccine

October 12, 2006

Close monitoring and rapid, targeted vaccinations may be the best way to protect the Ethiopian wolf, the world's rarest canine, against extinction.

In today's issue of the journal Nature, U.K. scientists suggest that immunizing just 30 percent of the wolf population at the first sign of an outbreak is sufficient to safeguard the endangered species from major outbreaks of rabies and other deadly diseases.

Only about 500 Ethiopian wolves remain in the wild, and the species has been ravaged by rabies epidemics at least twice in the recent past. But completely immunizing all of those animals is too time-consuming, given current technology.

The new study shows that even limited immunizations of wild canine species such as the Ethiopian wolf against rabies is "safe and effective," said lead author Dan Haydon, an ecologist and epidemiologist at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

(Related: "Most-Endangered Wolves May Be Saved By Vaccine" [September 27, 2002].)

"[That is] something that's not always been agreed upon in the conservation community," Haydon added.

Rarest Dog

Listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union, Ethiopian wolves roam the isolated mountain enclaves of the Ethiopian highlands (Ethiopia map).

The rust-colored canine, closely related to the gray wolf, lives in small, social packs that meet three times a day and occupy territories that span just a few miles. (Get wolf pictures, profiles, and more.)

Unlike other wolves, the species hunts alone, with individuals leaving their groups in the late morning and early afternoon in search of giant mole rats and grass rats.

Although it is protected, the wolf faces two major threats to its long-term survival: fatal disease epidemics introduced by domestic dogs and habitat degraded by livestock grazing.

In Bale Mountain National Park, home to some 350 wolves, for example, large rabies outbreaks in 1993 and 2003 wiped out 75 and 76 percent respectively of the wolf population, including entire packs.

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