Research was conducted during 1996–2000 to develop baits for delivering an oral rabies vaccine to raccoons (Procyon lotor) and coyotes (Canis latrans). A bait was sought that: (1) was attractive to the target species, (2) could be distributed by aircraft, (3) was as effective (or more so) than the currently used fish meal polymer bait, and (4) could be produced in large numbers by automated procedures and could be purchased by user groups at substantially lower cost.
Ten field trials were conducted to document raccoons' bait flavor preferences, evaluate a new vaccine sachet bait coated with various attractants, and determine if the sachet bait would effectively deliver Raboral V-RG® oral rabies vaccine (Merial Limited, Athens, Georgia, USA) to this species. Raccoons preferred fish and crustacean-based flavors over those derived from plant materials. Raccoon visits to tracking stations, frequency of bait removals, and percent of sachets discarded by this species that were emptied of placebo vaccine indicated efficacy of the new bait was equal or superior to the currently used fish meal polymer bait. A field trial conducted in fall 1998 compared aerially distributed vaccine-laden sachet and polymer baits and showed there was no difference between the percent of raccoons from the test and reference areas subsequently found positive for rabies antibody.
Four bait trials to determine coyote response to sachet baits were conducted in 1997–98. The propensity for canids to gulp or bolt smaller food items is well known. Thus, a first trial involved offering fish-flavored sachet baits of different sizes to 30 captive coyotes to determine if smaller size baits were more frequently swallowed intact. Two field trials were also conducted in fall 1997 to determine if free-ranging coyotes discriminated among sachet baits coated with different attractants. Finally, Raboral V-RG®-laden poultry-flavored sachet baits were aerially dropped and the percent of seropositive coyotes was compared with coyotes from surrounding areas where fish meal polymer vaccine baits had been distributed.
Captive coyotes did not swallow sachet baits intact, regardless of size. Bait preference field trials indicated that coyotes preferred poultry, cheese/beef tallow, and fish-flavored sachet baits and that such baits were taken at the same rate as polymer baits. A sample of coyotes from the area baited with vaccine-laden sachet baits had a markedly higher (P = 0.01) seropositivity rate than coyotes from areas where vaccine was distributed in polymer baits.
Sachet bait production could be facilitated by automated technology and sachet baits used either as an alternative vaccine delivery device or in combination with the fish meal polymer bait.