Vaccinating dogs protects African wildlife

Photo taken by Jack Traeger  on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Photo taken by Jack Traeger on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

When people think about threats to African wildlife, they often think of poaching. But it’s not the only cause of dwindling animal populations. Disease is also a big concern. For example, rabies can spread from domestic animals to lions and other wildlife, decimating their populations.

Since 2003, scientists have been offering free rabies vaccines for domestic dogs around Tanzania’s Serengeti, resulting in a dramatic drop of rabies cases among the park’s lions and also saving many human lives. Before the program began, 50 to 150 people in the area died of rabies each year.

“It’s very, very effective,” Joseph Ogwa, acting district livestock official for the Bunda District, told the Chicago Tribune. “We don’t have cases now. I remember 10 years ago it wasn’t good because there were so many cases of rabies.”

Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo has been in charge of the vaccination program for the past five years and is looking for additional funding to continue it. It costs about $110,000 a year to run the program. You can donate here on the Lincoln Park Zoo website.

An article in The Verge illustrates the importance of vaccination programs in protecting wildlife. It shows how – before vaccination programs were in place for domestic dogs – canine distemper spread to Serengeti’s lions, then mutated to become endemic among the predators.

Featured Guide: Stephan Kilevo, Tanzania

stephan kilevoStephan “Stephano” Kilevo was born in Arusha, Tanzania, in 1960. He is from the indigenous Wa-Arusha ethnic and linguistic group. After completing his primary and secondary education, Stephan underwent training as a park ranger under the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority, where he was responsible for enforcing regulations, patrolling for poachers, emergency response, firefighting, and guided walks and other informational services for visitors. His passion for wildlife and the environment led to him becoming a professional safari guide in 1994.

Stephan is fluent in English, Swahili and Maasai. His hobbies include listening to music, and playing and watching soccer and volleyball. He is married and has four sons and one daughter.

Can bioengineered rhino horns save the species?

rhino in Ngorongoro Conservation Area
A black rhinoceros browses in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Photo taken on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.


A San Francisco biochemist thinks he might have the solution to the rhino poaching problem: make rhino horns out of stem cells.

M.R. O’Connor reported in The Atlantic that the cells would be grown into horn shapes in the laboratory, then sold for use in traditional Chinese medicine, which is driving the current black market for rhinoceros horns. The horns would be biologically identical to real rhino horns, but wouldn’t involve injury or death.

Despite efforts to educate people about the plight of rhinos and the fact that rhino horn has no real medicinal value, demand for the horns remains high. It takes time to change minds – and time is something that rhinos don’t have. With only five remaining northern white rhinos, that subspecies is almost extinct. Conservationists estimate that southern white rhinos could be extinct in 23 years if current poaching trends continue.

Ceratotech, the company that filed a patent for the horn-growing process, hopes that flooding the market with biosynthetic horns will reduce the demand for horns from slaughtered rhinos. But there’s the risk that they could make it easier for poachers to sneak unethically sourced horns onto the market without getting caught.

Rwandan mountain gorilla makes a tool for catching food

Lisanga gets ready to catch ants with her new tool. Photo by the Gorilla Doctors.

For the first time, scientists have seen a mountain gorilla use a tool to get and eat food in the wild.

A clever young female named Lisanga watched a silverback from her group get stung by the ants he wanted to snack on when he reached into an ant hole. He ran off hungry. But Lisanga came up with a solution, grabbing a stick from the ground and placing it into the hole. When she lifted it out, ants covered the stick and she licked them off without getting stung. It was the first time a wild mountain gorilla has been observed using a tool.

Two veterinarians from the nonprofit group Gorilla Doctors reported the incident in the American Journal of Primatology. It took place in Virunga National Park, Rwanda, where Ujuzi often leads gorilla tracking excursions.

This new observation attests to something we’ve long known: mountain gorillas have amazing levels of intelligence and creativity, and are well worth the efforts to preserve and learn from them.