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Low-coverage vaccination strategies for the conservation of endangered species

Nature volume 443, pages 692695 (12 October 2006) | Download Citation



The conventional objective of vaccination programmes is to eliminate infection by reducing the reproduction number of an infectious agent to less than one1, which generally requires vaccination of the majority of individuals. In populations of endangered wildlife, the intervention required to deliver such coverage can be undesirable and impractical2; however, endangered populations are increasingly threatened by outbreaks of infectious disease for which effective vaccines exist3,4. As an alternative, wildlife epidemiologists could adopt a vaccination strategy that protects a population from the consequences of only the largest outbreaks of disease. Here we provide a successful example of this strategy in the Ethiopian wolf, the world's rarest canid5, which persists in small subpopulations threatened by repeated outbreaks of rabies introduced by domestic dogs6. On the basis of data from past outbreaks, we propose an approach that controls the spread of disease through habitat corridors between subpopulations and that requires only low vaccination coverage. This approach reduces the extent of rabies outbreaks and should significantly enhance the long-term persistence of the population. Our study shows that vaccination used to enhance metapopulation persistence through elimination of the largest outbreaks of disease requires lower coverage than the conventional objective of reducing the reproduction number of an infectious agent to less than one1.

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We thank Ethiopia's Wildlife Conservation Department, the Oromiya Rural Land and Natural Resources Administration Authority, and the Bale Mountains National Park for permission to undertake this work. We thank the staff of the EWCP for field work; the WCD veterinarians F. Shiferaw and K. Argaw; C. Rupprecht and staff at CDC; T. Fooks and staff at the VLA; R. K. Wayne for the work in his genetics laboratory, supported in part by his grant from the NSF; and the IUCN/SSC Canid and Veterinary Specialist Groups for advice. D.T.H. acknowledges the award of a MacLagan Travel Grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh in support of this research. Funding was provided by the Born Free Foundation, Frankfurt Zoological Society, the Wellcome Trust, Wildlife Conservation Network, Morris Animal Foundation, Conservation International and Siren UK. Author Contributions D.T.H. undertook much of the model formulation and analysis, and coordinated the synthesis of ideas and information. D.A.R. generated and compiled much of the empirical and all of the genetic data. L.M. assisted with formulation and interpretation of the analyses. D.L.K. managed the implementation of the vaccination programme. L.A.T. provided data and analysis for spatial distribution of the wolf population. M.B.G. assisted with early formulation of the modelling work and interpretation of later model output. S.D.W. coordinated fieldwork for much of the period over which this study applies. J.P.P. was instrumental in overseeing the genetic analyses. S.C. assisted in formulation of the vaccination strategy and in writing the manuscript. M.E.J.W. suggested analyses and assisted in writing the manuscript. C.S.-Z. was responsible for funding and coordinating Ethiopian wolf research and conservation work, and provided data on the 1992 outbreak. J.M. provided essential data on wolf demography for use in the PVA model. D.W.M. conceived and supervised several doctoral studies that have underpinned the project since its inception. M.K.L. was responsible for designing and implementing the disease control strategy.

Author information


  1. Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

    • D. T. Haydon
  2. Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford, Tubney House, Oxford OX13 5QL, UK

    • D. A. Randall
    • , L. A. Tallents
    • , S. D. Williams
    • , C. Sillero-Zubiri
    • , J. Marino
    •  & D. W. Macdonald
  3. Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme, PO Box 215, Robe, Bale, Ethiopia

    • D. A. Randall
    • , D. L. Knobel
    • , L. A. Tallents
    • , S. D. Williams
    • , C. Sillero-Zubiri
    • , J. Marino
    •  & M. K. Laurenson
  4. Wildlife and Emerging Diseases Section, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush Veterinary Centre, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9RG, UK

    • L. Matthews
    • , D. L. Knobel
    • , S. Cleaveland
    •  & M. K. Laurenson
  5. Institute of Life Science, School of Medicine, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2 8PP, UK

    • M. B. Gravenor
  6. Conservation Genetics Resource Center, University of California, 621 Charles E. Young Drive South, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA

    • J. P. Pollinger
  7. Centre for Infectious Diseases, University of Edinburgh, Ashworth Laboratories, Kings Buildings, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JF, UK

    • M. E. J. Woolhouse
  8. Frankfurt Zoological Society, PO Box 14935, Arusha, Tanzania

    • M. K. Laurenson


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Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to D. T. Haydon.

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    Supplementary Notes

    This file contains Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Results Supplementary Tables 1–4 and Supplementary Figures 1–3.

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