A Global Perspective on Oral Vaccination of Wildlife against Rabies

J Wildl Dis. 2024 Apr 1;60(2):241-284. doi: 10.7589/JWD-D-23-00078.


The long-term mitigation of human-domestic animal-wildlife conflicts is complex and difficult. Over the last 50 yr, the primary biomedical concepts and actualized collaborative global field applications of oral rabies vaccination to wildlife serve as one dramatic example that revolutionized the field of infectious disease management of free-ranging animals. Oral vaccination of wildlife occurred in diverse locales within Africa, Eurasia, the Middle East, and North America. Although rabies is not a candidate for eradication, over a billion doses of vaccine-laden baits distributed strategically by hand, at baiting stations, or via aircraft, resulted in widespread disease prevention, control, or local disease elimination among mesocarnivores. Pure, potent, safe, and efficacious vaccines consisted of either modified-live, highly attenuated, or recombinant viruses contained within attractive, edible baits. Since the late 1970s, major free-ranging target species have included coyotes (Canis latrans), foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus; Vulpes vulpes), jackals (Canis aureus; Lupulella mesomelas), raccoons (Procyon lotor), raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides), and skunks (Mephitis mephitis). Operational progress has occurred in all but the latter species. Programmatic evaluations of oral rabies vaccination success have included: demonstration of biomarkers incorporated within vaccine-laden baits in target species as representative of bait contact; serological measurement of the induction of specific rabies virus neutralizing antibodies, indicative of an immune response to vaccine; and most importantly, the decreasing detection of rabies virus antigens in the brains of collected animals via enhanced laboratory-based surveillance, as evidence of management impact. Although often conceived mistakenly as a panacea, such cost-effective technology applied to free-ranging wildlife represents a real-world, One Health application benefiting agriculture, conservation biology, and public health. Based upon lessons learned with oral rabies vaccination of mesocarnivores, opportunities for future extension to other taxa and additional diseases will have far-reaching, transdisciplinary benefits.

Keywords: baits; biomarkers; diagnosis; lyssavirus; oral vaccination; rabies; serology; surveillance; zoonosis.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • Foxes
  • Humans
  • Mephitidae
  • Rabies Vaccines*
  • Rabies* / epidemiology
  • Rabies* / prevention & control
  • Rabies* / veterinary
  • Raccoons
  • Vaccination / methods
  • Vaccination / veterinary


  • Rabies Vaccines