The province of Ontario (Canada) reported more laboratory confirmed rabid animals than any other state or province in Canada or the USA from 1958–91, with the exception of 1960–62. More than 95% of those cases occurred in the southern 10% of Ontario (≈100,000 km2), the region with the highest human population density and greatest agricultural activity. Rabies posed an expensive threat to human health and significant costs to the agricultural economy. The rabies variant originated in arctic foxes: the main vector in southern Ontario was the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), with lesser involvement of the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources began a 5 yr experiment in 1989 to eliminate terrestrial rabies from a ≈30,000 km2 study area in the eastern end of southern Ontario. Baits containing oral rabies vaccine were dropped annually in the study area at a density of 20 baits/km2 from 1989–95. That continued 2 yr beyond the original 5 yr plan. The experiment was successful in eliminating the arctic fox variant of rabies from the whole area. In the 1980's, an average of 235 rabid foxes per year were reported in the study area. None have been reported since 1993. Cases of fox rabies in other species also disappeared. In 1995, the last bovine and companion animal cases were reported and in 1996 the last rabid skunk occurred. Only bat variants of rabies were present until 1999, when the raccoon variant entered from New York (USA). The success of this experiment led to an expansion of the program to all of southern Ontario in 1994. Persistence of terrestrial rabies, and ease of elimination, appeared to vary geographically, and probably over time. Ecological factors which enhance or reduce the long term survival of rabies in wild foxes are poorly understood.
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Vol. 37 • No. 1