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Rabies Outbreak Threatens African Wild Dogs

  • Wednesday, July 6, 2005

With only 300 African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) left in Kenya, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and our partners are working diligently to mitigate the key threats to this important carnivore. Research on this highly endangered predator is conducted in parts of Laikipia, Samburu, Isiolo, and Baringo districts in northern Kenya, a landscape that AWF calls the Samburu Heartland. This area contains a mosaic of land-use types, including pastoralist areas, commercial livestock ranches, areas devoted to wildlife-based tourism, small-scale farming, and protected areas.

Dr. Rosie Woodroffe runs the AWF-sponsored Samburu-Laikipia Wild Dog Project (SLWDP). The project's focal points are to understand the limits to wild dog recovery in northern Kenya, to provide a realistic assessment of wild dog's impact on human livelihoods, and to identify methods of land-use and livestock husbandry that minimize wild dog's impact and, hence, animosity towards them.

Though wild dog numbers in Kenya are increasing, there is still a long way to go before they lose their Endangered status. One serious threat limiting wild dog recovery is infectious disease. Rabies has wiped out the entire wild dog population that once inhabited the Serengeti and poses a major threat elsewhere. Canine distemper and anthrax are also threatening wild dog survival. The Samburu-Laikipia Wild Dog Project hopes to continue researching this threat by analyzing tissue samples from both domestic and wild dog carcasses.

Recently, when two wild dog carcasses were brought to Dr. Rosie Woodroffe and her team, they concluded that rabies was the probable cause of death. Dr. Woodroffe fears that domestic dogs might be passing the disease to the wild dogs, and this could lead to an outbreak that threatens the entire population. In an effort to address this urgent problem, the team embarked on an inoculation exercise, applying vaccines to over one hundred domestic dogs that live near key wild dog habitat. Several wild dogs across multiple packs have been fitted with radio-collars. This way, researchers can track the dogs and their movements throughout their range. They can map areas most used by dogs and determine where they come into contact with domestic dogs, and therefore find ways to prevent disease transmission.

With your support, AWF can continue to support the Samburu-Laikipia Wild Dog Project and provide valuable research to ensure the future of this incredible canine throughout Africa.

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