BEEKMANTOWN — A trial conducted locally could help determine the future direction of rabies vaccinations for wild animals across the nation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Division has been trapping, analyzing, tagging and releasing raccoons and other wildlife across Clinton County over the past two weeks.
Wildlife Services will begin dropping baits by airplane in mid-August, hopefully with a new vaccine that has shown positive results in Canada but has not yet been approved for regular use in the United States.
“The old vaccine had about a 30 percent success rate (for animals finding and consuming the baits),” said Dan Morgan, the USDA wildlife biologist who is supervising the Clinton County project.
“That’s good enough to keep rabies from continuing to spread, but we need a larger percentage” to move toward eliminating raccoon rabies in the wild.
In Canada, this new vaccine has had a 70 percent success rate, he noted.
The new bait is a much sweeter-smelling treat for the animals and is less attractive to dogs and other animals, he added.
Morgan said he is optimistic that federal approval will be granted to use the new vaccine in the upcoming bait drop.
Working in two large sections of Clinton County, one north of Plattsburgh and the other south
of the city, technicians have trapped more than 400 raccoons, along with a selection of other mammals, including skunks, martins, red foxes and young coyotes.
“We return the animals to the location where they were captured,” Morgan said.
Younger animals are able to reunite with their parents relatively easily when returned to the wild, he noted.
Technicians anesthetize the animals and then weigh them, remove a tooth for aging and take a blood sample to look for the presence of rabies antibodies. The animals are then returned to their temporary cages, where they will wake within 15 to 20 minutes and await their return to the wild.