In west-central Texas, USA, abatement efforts for the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) rabies epizootic illustrate the difficulties inherent in large-scale management of wildlife disease. The rabies epizootic has been managed through a cooperative oral rabies vaccination program (ORV) since 1996. Millions of edible baits containing a rabies vaccine have been distributed annually in a 16-km to 24-km zone around the perimeter of the epizootic, which encompasses a geographic area >4 × 105 km2. The ORV program successfully halted expansion of the epizootic into metropolitan areas but has not achieved the ultimate goal of eradication. Rabies activity in gray fox continues to occur periodically outside the ORV zone, preventing ORV zone contraction and dissipation of the epizootic. We employed a landscape-genetic approach to assess gray fox population structure and dispersal in the affected area, with the aim of assisting rabies management efforts. No unique genetic clusters or population boundaries were detected. Instead, foxes were weakly structured over the entire region in an isolation by distance pattern. Local subpopulations appeared to be genetically non-independent over distances >30 km, implying that long-distance movements or dispersal may have been common in the region. We concluded that gray foxes in west-central Texas have a high potential for long-distance rabies virus trafficking. Thus, a 16-km to 24-km ORV zone may be too narrow to contain the fox rabies epizootic. Continued expansion of the ORV zone, although costly, may be critical to the long-term goal of eliminating the Texas fox rabies virus variant from the United States.
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Vol. 73 • No. 8