Aerial distribution of oral vaccine baits is one of the available strategies for controlling the spread of infectious wildlife diseases. This technique has commonly been used to control rabies in wild carnivores and, together with other techniques, was used to immunize wild populations of raccoons (Procyon lotor) and striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) after the detection of the first rabid raccoon in the province of Quebec, Canada, in 2006. Vaccine bait distribution was conducted over large areas where agricultural land is dominant but interspersed with residual forest patches. Our objective was to evaluate the effect of habitat (forest vs. agricultural crops) in space and time on the contact rate between wildlife and the ONRAB® vaccine bait, a recent alternative to the V-RG®. Four transects of eight vaccine baits each were installed parallel to, and at different distances from, the forest's edge (under forest cover, at field-forest edge, and at 50 and 200 m from forest edge in agricultural crops) at three sites composed of various crop types interspersed with forest patches. This experiment was conducted during three periods (late spring, 1–7 June; summer, 27 July–2 August; and fall, 24–30 October) in 2009. Contact rates with vaccine baits were monitored for 7 days in each period to evaluate the potential temporal variations generated within the habitat types. Contact rates with ONRAB vaccine baits were highest under forest cover and in the fall. Of 13 species observed in proximity to the vaccine baits, raccoons were the most frequent (49.5%, n=55 visits). Our study underlines the importance of taking into account landscape heterogeneity and timing of distribution when planning the distribution of vaccine baits to control rabies in raccoons.
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Vol. 47 • No. 3