Giving Wild Dogs a “better shot” at survival

by ZSL on

Anna Langguth, MSc student at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology and the Royal Veterinary College is researching how to better protect Africa’s most colourful canines against a fatal virus.

A Wild Dog in South Africa
A Wild Dog in South Africa

African wild dogs are one of the most endangered canines in Africa. With only about 6,600 individuals left and their numbers declining, their continued survival is highly uncertain. While current ZSL projects are looking into the effects of climate change on wild dogs, infectious diseases pose another major threat to remaining populations.

What are the implications of a rabies outbreak in African wild dogs?

Rabies is an almost invariably fatal viral disease which causes a painful inflammation of the brain. The virus has been responsible for large-scale disappearances of African wild dogs across their former range and has been associated with the complete extinction of the species in the Serengeti ecosystem.

How can we prevent these outbreaks? 

Just like we can protect our own dogs against diseases, we can also vaccinate African wild dogs against rabies. However, wild dogs that have received only one vaccination are still reported to succumb to the disease. This is possibly because a single dose of vaccine is not enough to stimulate the production of antibody levels high enough to protect them.

Can a rabies booster vaccination protect African wild dogs better? 

One of this year’s students of ZSL’s Wild Animal Health course will undertake a research project addressing this very important question.

Veterinarian Anna Langguth will analyse blood samples collected over the past two decades from captive African wild dogs who have received one or multiple rabies vaccinations. Supervised by ZSL’s Louise Gibson and Prof. Rosie Woodroffe, she will quantify and categorise antibody levels in these samples to evaluate whether they convey protective immunity against the virus.

To do this, the team will develop a novel laboratory test, which allows rapid analysis of very little amounts blood. This will also greatly benefit future studies, allowing researchers to make good use of the sometimes hard to come by samples from free-ranging wild dogs. 

Results of this project will inform future vaccination campaigns and enable conservationists to protect these rare canines better. Together with other projects looking into wild dog conservation, ZSL is working hard to ensure that these fascinating animals are not lost to future generations forever.

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