Cape Cod raccoons to receive aerial rabies vaccination program
You are a raccoon and you are probably hungry. But it’s such a long walk to those trash cans at the end of the cul-de-sac, and sometimes those damn humans start screaming. It would be really great if something tasty just fell out of the blue, perhaps with the added benefits of a rabies vaccine.
Suddenly, a helicopter is flying overhead. They throw treats like a parade float! Hmmm … looks like a packet of ketchup. And it’s coated with an irresistible fishmeal crumble.
Down the hatch!
Hopefully this scene has unfolded across much of Cape Cod over the past few days, as aerial distribution of around 57,000 oral rabies vaccine baits was completed on Saturday. Ground distribution of approximately 13,000 baits is expected to end today. The baits are usually consumed within four days.
It is one of the largest bait distributions in Cape Town’s history, said Brian Bjorklund, a wildlife biologist with the US Department of Agriculture and coordinator of the Cape Cod and Cape Rabies Task Force. southeastern Massachusetts, in a telephone interview.
The massive and swift response was sparked by the discovery in May of a rabid raccoon in a neighborhood in Hyannis. No one wants to see this deadly neurological virus spread around Cape Town. “We hope we caught it soon enough,” Bjorklund said of the operation stretching from Bourne to Orleans.
Bjorklund said tests carried out on the rabid raccoon by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that it was not from Cape Cod, but rather from Plymouth County. While raccoons are known to hitchhike, Bjorklund wanted people to know that the relocation of wildlife is illegal.
The helicopter bait dropping was mainly concentrated in wooded areas, forested wetlands and swampy areas of Cape Town. “Anywhere you might find a raccoon,” said Bjorklund, who noted that the masked mammal was one of the “most adaptable animals in terms of human involvement.”
The bait vaccines are also effective on coyotes, foxes and fishermen, Bjorklund said. They are not harmful to dogs and cats, although if an animal swallows more than a handful, an upset stomach is possible due to the rich, fishy coating. The baits cost $ 1.30 each, so officials hope most of them aren’t disturbed by pets and humans, and end up in the stomachs of wild animals.
Hyannis’ rabies case was the first terrestrial (non-bat) case in Cape Town in eight years, according to Bjorklund. In 2012, a resident of Marstons Mills became the first person since 1935 to die of rabies contracted in Massachusetts, after being bitten by a rabid bat. The chances of contracting rabies from a bat are considered slim, however.
In June, wildlife officials trapped and vaccinated hundreds of raccoons to help stem the threat of rabies. A peculiar find was made in the Punkhorn Parklands in Brewster during this operation, when a raccoon that had been tagged in 2011 was again captured. The raccoon is now 11 years old, an astonishing longevity for a species for which a lifespan of three years is considered normal.
People who come in contact with a packet of baits should rinse the area of their body with lukewarm water and soap. Contact the Massachusetts Department of Health at 617-983-6800 for more information.
More information on the rabies and bait control program is available at these websites:
Cape Cod and Southeastern Massachusetts Rabies Task Force: barnstablecountyhealth.org/programs-and-services/rabies-awareness/cape-cod-rabies-task-force
USDA National Rabies Management Program: aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/programs/nrmp
After:Airborne rabies prevention: helicopters to drop oral raccoon vaccine for first time in ten years on Cape Cod
After:Building a ‘front’ against rabies: USDA sends workers to vaccinate Cape Cod raccoons
After:Hyannis’ raccoon tests positive for rabies; Cape Town’s first case in 8 years prompts vaccination