Serengeti Rabies Vaccination Project

Project LocationSerengeti National Park, Tanzania
Project TypeCommunity conservation initiatives, Endangered species protection
Endangered SpeciesAfrican wild dog, Lion, Striped Hyena, Cheetah
Land Area Protected30000 km2
Benefiting Locally30 Maasai communities
Local People Employed8

Serengeti Rabies Vaccination Project

The Serengeti Rabies Vaccination Project aims to develop integrated disease control programmes in the Serengeti ecosystem to reduce disease risks for wildlife as well as improving the health of local communities.

Rabies is a horrific fatal disease that affects people (mainly children) and a wide range of wild mammal species. In the districts neighbouring the Serengeti National Park, rabies causes about 50 human deaths each year and 1,000-2,000 people are bitten by suspected rabid animals. Wildlife also suffers from rabies. In the Serengeti, the disease remains a particular concern for the endangered African wild dog population which has recently re-colonised the eastern Serengeti plains This small population remains highly vulnerable to localized extinction from disease, as occurred previously (in the early 1990s), following outbreaks of rabies and canine distemper. The Serengeti is one of few protected area systems in Africa that is large enough to support a viable population of African wild dogs, but without intervention to prevent disease transmission from domestic dogs, rabies and canine distemper virus (CDV) both pose an immediate threat to the survival of the population.

Rabies Vaccination

This project builds on several years of research on carnivore diseases in the Serengeti, which has generated three key results.

  1. Although all mammalian species can be infected and die from rabies, in the Serengeti only one strain of virus circulates and that this virus can be sustained only by domestic dogs. This means that if rabies can be controlled in the domestic dogs, the disease should disappear from all other species and from the ecosystem entirely.
  2. Despite the appearance of large populations of free-roaming domestic dogs, most (if not all) dogs are affiliated with households and can be vaccinated through relatively simple, cost-effective measures.
  3. The transmission characteristics of rabies suggest that a low proportion of dogs (70%) need to be vaccinated to ensure elimination of disease.

Project Objectives

The expected outcomes of the project include:

  • Vaccination of ~7,800 dogs in 30 villages in Loliondo and Sale Divisions (LSD).
  • Reduction and possible elimination of dog rabies in LSD.
  • Reduction and possible elimination of human exposures to rabies in LSD, with reduced costs for preventive vaccination incurred by families and medical centres.
  • Reduction and possible elimination of rabies in livestock, with economic benefits.
  • Reduced risk of rabies, canine distemper and canine parvovirus for wildlife, with little or no disease-related mortality associated with these pathogens in wildlife.
  • Absence of viral disease outbreaks in African wild dogs.
  • Continued expansion of the African wild dog population, with possible re-colonisation of areas inside the Serengeti National Park.
  • Increased tourism revenues to local communities through wild dog viewing.

Tusk Support

A grant of £4,860 allowed the project to conduct a domestic dog vaccination programme involving 30 Maasai communities on the eastern boundaries of the Serengeti National Park. Fuel, staff and syringe costs were funded by the grant for the vaccination of 7,800 dogs. The aim of the programme was to ensure a ‘cordon sanitaire’ is maintained around the park to prevent the re-emergence of diseases, rabies and canine distemper, and to support local communities towards sustainable and independent implementation of disease control.

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