Rabies vaccine possible but difficult

Kurt and Peter Clausen (left) of Okosongoro Safari Ranch, Dr Rainer Hassel, Agra’s veterinarian and project team leader, Dr Adriaan Vos of IDT Biologika, Dr Fonnie Bruwer and Frank Wittneben, both from Agra ProVision.

A research project to determine the extent and impact of rabies on the local kudu population, and to establish practical counter measures, is gaining momentum.

The project announced this week it has gathered tentative information that an oral vaccine may be effective, but acknowledged that figuring out a way to administer such a vaccine to wild kudus remains a key obstacle.
Agra Provision, the custodian of the project, said this week “rabies in kudu and possible evidence of the existence of natural immunity in the animals requires a great deal of research. More information about the epidemiology as well as the development of a practical method to vaccinate kudu has started to be researched through the kudu rabies research project from June 2015, at the quarantined facility, about 40 kilometres north of Omaruru.
A team of specialists under the leadership of Dr Rainer Hassel of Agra including Dr Fonnie Bruwer of Agra ProVision, and Dr Adriaan Vos, senior scientist of IDT Biologika from Dessau in Germany, is using a vaccine from the German company to vaccinate semi-tame kudus kept in bomas.
After an adaptation period for the kudu, the project started by collecting blood samples, fitting ear tags, deworming and administration of an oral vaccine to a number of captive kudu. This first step will provide the basic and essential information required to do further research. The trial measures the vaccine’s effectiveness and establishes to what extent it will protect kudu against rabies infection. The second part of the trial will investigate whether rabies can be transmitted directly from one kudu to another without a so-called vector, typically a small carnivore like a mongoose, jackal or badger.
Dr Rainer Hassel said that traditionally, rabies is considered a disease affecting carnivores and transmitted to the species through direct contact such as licking or saliva. However, in domestic animals and human rabies; infections can be prevented through vaccination. But vaccination of free roaming wildlife using the traditional vaccine requires the use of helicopters and darting, making vaccination a very costly exercise, with a high chance to miss individual animals. It is for this reason that research is needed to explore alternative vaccination methods, such as has been successfully achieved in parts of Europe to vaccinate foxes using an oral bait.
Dr Adriaan Vos, Senior Scientist and Bait Expert of IDT Biologika was full of praise after being part of the first trial, and said “I don’t know what impressed me more; the facility where the animals are housed or the members of the project team who are so motivated to find a solution to counter the epidemic kudu rabies.” Expanding on the threat of disease, he stressed, “This disease is not only a threat for this iconic animal species but also for other wildlife species and livestock in Namibia.”
This serious disease not only continues to pose a threat to the kudu population, but also threatens to infect commercial livestock. The negative economic and health impact that a rabies outbreak can have on the farming community can be considerable. This project was commissioned by the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) and is implemented by Agra ProVision. The project is expected to take 13 months to complete having started on 01 March this year.