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Good News! Vaccines Can Possibly Save Lives of Ethopian Wolves

Sep 07, 2016 06:14 AM EDT

The rare Ethiopian wolves that are dwindling in numbers due to rabies now has the possibility to be saved through vaccines.

National Geographic reports that there are already fewer than 1,000 wolves found in Ethiopia's Bale Mountain. And what makes it disturbing is that not all of these wolves are found alive.

In 1991, Claudio Sillero-Zubiri aimed to find the rarest canid in Bale Mountain only to find their corpses. He took blood samples back to University of Oxford to study it and discovered that rabies killed the Ethopian wolves.

Sillero-Zubiri, now a professor at University of Oxford, together with his team at the Ethiopian Wolf Project, identified four rabies outbreaks that involved Ethopian wolves. In every outbreak, the wolves declined to 75 percent. According to the Ethopian Wolf Conservation Programme, there are less than 500 surviving adult Ethopian wolves, making them the rarest canid in the world and is even the most endangered carnivore in Africa.

However, there is also a way to fight rabies. Vaccination programs are the direct ways to help immune the animals from the disease. "The big rabies outbreaks are catastrophic, but this vaccine could make a big difference," Sillero-Zubiri said.

The challenge, however, is how to administer the vaccines to the wolves. First, the researchers tried to vaccinate local dogs as it was found that the rabies circulates around local dogs and Ethiopian wolves, but it was of a little success. Next, they tried injectable vaccines to the wolves directly, but this process proved to be more expensive, time-consuming and stressful for the wolves.

The researchers soon tried oral rabies vaccine by inserting the vaccine packet to liver-flavored food and left it around for the wolves to find and ingest. But it turns out that the Ethiopian wolves do not find the flavor appealing. The researchers then inserted the vaccine sachets to dead rats as these are usually the wolves' favorite. It was partly successful, but it was soon discovered that goat meat and intestines are foods that can entice Ethopian wolves.

The trial proved to be a success, as 86 percent of the wolves injested the vaccines and were against rabies, National Geographic reported.

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