Aerial delivery of oral rabies vaccine (ORV) baits has proven effective in large-scale efforts to immunize wildlife against rabies, and in North America this strategy currently is being used to immunize foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus and Vulpes vulpes), raccoons (Procyon lotor), and coyotes (Canis latrans). Skunks are also a major reservoir and vector of rabies, but at present oral vaccines for use in skunks are not licensed. Furthermore, given differences in morphology (smaller jaws) and behavior (food handling and consumption), it is unknown if baits currently used in ORV campaigns would be effective for skunks. Because oral vaccine delivery is contingent upon puncture of the vaccine container (VC), baits need to be sufficiently attractive to elicit selection and consumption. Manipulation of the bait to facilitate vaccine ingestion by the target species is a critical element for an effective ORV bait. The objectives of this study were to assess manipulation and consumption of current ORV baits by striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis). We conducted four independent trials with penned animals and various baits to assess bait selection frequency, VC puncture frequency, and consumption. Video recorded trials were used to assess attractiveness of baits and consumption behavior of skunks. Bait characteristics, such as texture, size, and flavor influenced selection and consumption. Fish and chicken flavors were preferred and vaccine containers within selected baits were likely to be punctured. Vaccine ingestion seemed more likely if VCs were directly coated with the bait matrix. To make baits attractive to skunks and to ensure puncture of the VC, modifications to current baits should consider a smaller size, a meat-flavored matrix, a slightly pressurized VC, and a direct coating of matrix on the VC.
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Vol. 43 • No. 1