Friday, April 01, 2016

Helicopter offers advantages for vaccine bait drop in a contained area in the fight against rabies

Ministry of Natural Resources pilot Andrew Brunet checks over the Eurocopter EC130 he was flying to drop fox-rabies vaccine bait north of Stratford on Friday.

A bright yellow-and-black EC130 helicopter was a valuable tool in helping a Ministry of Natural Resources crew blanket an 8-kilometre-square area with some 20,000 small packages of rabies vaccine bait north of Stratford on Friday.

The effort was in response to a positive test of the Arctic fox strain of rabies late last December in a calf in the Brunner area.

It was the first confirmed fox-strain rabies case in southern Ontario since 2012. No additional cases have been found in the area since then.

Bev Stevenson, an MNR wildlife research technician based in Peterborough, said it's believed a rabid skunk passed on the fox-strain rabies to the calf. A skunk was seen acting strangely near the farm before the calf tested positive.

The nimble EC130 helicopter, flown by MNR pilot Andrew Brunet, was chosen for Friday's drop because of its ability to tightly target an area, Stevenson noted.

Brunet and a crew of three flew their mission over Brunner starting from the Stratford Municipal Airport, where the workhorse MNR twin-engined Otters have become a common sight during larger-scale bait drops over the years.

"It's such a small area and the flight lines are so tight together that it's just much more efficient to use the helicopter this time," Stevenson explained.

She said the baits are not harmful to people or pets. If anyone finds one, they can simply place a plastic bag over a hand--to prevent human scent from transmitting to the package--and drop the bait into a bushlot or wooded area where wildlife are likely to consume it, she said.

The baits measure about four-by-two centimetres, and have a waxy coating that is scented to attract skunks, foxes and raccoons.

The MNR said that the vaccine is absorbed through the lining of the mouth. An animal is immunized about two weeks after absorbing the vaccine.

For more information on the program call the MNR Rabies Hotline at 1-888-574-6656.

The MNR notes that the number of wildlife-related rabies cases in Ontario has dropped by more than 99% since rabies-control programs began.

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