Serengeti Project Information

Carnivore Disease Project

While 5,700 square miles of protected land lie at the heart of the Serengeti, areas bordering the park provide homes to millions of people and domestic animals. Fluid boundaries between savanna and village and close contact between domestic animals and wildlife enable the spread of disease. Lincoln Park Zoo works with partners throughout the region to protect the Serengeti's people, pets and predators.

Projects

Serengeti Vaccination Campaign
By vaccinating domestic dogs against diseases such as rabies and canine distemper, Lincoln Park Zoo and its partners benefit the entire Serengeti ecosystem.

Serengeti Wildlife Surveillance
Wildlife transects and disease surveys provide key information on the health of the Serengeti's predators.

The Impact of Vaccinations on Domestic Dogs
Zoo scientists are studying how the vaccination campaign affects domestic-dog populations—crucial information for planning future campaigns.

Hearing from Households
By visiting Serengeti households, scientists can share the importance of the vaccination programs—and learn from the people directly impacted by it.

Bringing the Lab to the Field
A field kit that preserve samples in the absence of electricity or refrigeration enables research in the furthest reaches of the Serengeti.


Serengeti Vaccination Campaign

Wildlife surveys have identified domestic dogs as a major source for rabies and canine distemper outbreaks that have devastated the Serengeti’s lions and African wild dogs. To safeguard these predators, as well as people and pets, Lincoln Park Zoo is leading a project to vaccinate domestic dogs against rabies and distemper.

With support from the zoo and its partners, Tanzanian veterinarians and field staff regularly inoculate dogs in villages bordering the park. Blood samples are drawn during the process to help scientists study disease transmission among the dogs.

Since it began in 2003, the vaccination project has become woven into the culture of the region. People are happy to participate, bringing their pets long distances to be vaccinated.

What’s the impact? Preliminary results are promising. Distemper is down among the region’s big cats, and rabies incidence in humans has dropped from 250 cases per year to zero since the project started. But the project has no end in sight: ongoing vaccinations are needed to continue to protect the Serengeti’s people, pets and predators.


Serengeti Wildlife Surveillance

In addition to vaccinating dogs, Carnivore Disease Project researchers are conducting disease surveillance and wildlife transects to monitor the health of park predators.

Scientists periodically collect blood samples from wild lions to track the incidence of rabies and distemper. They also take advantage of the learning opportunities associated with loss, collecting samples from dead predators to identify disease outbreaks—information that helps  assess the effectiveness of the vaccination program.

In addition to studying disease, scientists also monitor predator abundance. By conducting regular transects in areas in and around Serengeti National Park, researchers can tally the animals they encounter on a predetermined path, enabling estimates of overall population size for lions, hyenas and African wild dogs.

These transects provide “snapshots” of predator populations at any given time. They also provide a baseline against which change can be measured over time—key information for tracking whether disease outbreaks are occurring.


The Impact of Vaccinations on Domestic Dogs

It’s known that the Lincoln Park Zoo–led vaccination campaign protects people, pets and predators against diseases such as rabies and canine distemper. But there’s less information on how the vaccination program affects the domestic dogs themselves. Does being vaccinated increase a dog’s lifespan? Does it increase the number of puppies a female produces, improve health and welfare, and ultimately lead to larger dog populations?

These questions are essential to successfully managing the larger vaccination program. By surveying dog owners and tracking individual dogs over time, zoo scientists will determine how vaccination impacts the Serengeti’s dog population. The gathered data will increase understanding of how many vaccine doses are needed and what the long-term impact of the campaign is on dog dynamics—essential information for proper planning for the future.

Staff and Collaborators

 

Anna Czupryna
Research Associate, Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology

  Lisa Faust, Ph.D., is Lincoln Park Zoo's vice president of conservation and science  

Lisa Faust, Ph.D.
Vice President of Conservation & Science

             
 

Rachel Santymire, Ph.D.
Director, Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology

   

Felix Lankester, M.S.
Director of Tanzanian Programs


Hearing From Households

In addition to surveying Serengeti residents about their dogs, Carnivore Disease Project researchers collect data on rabies, livestock health and other key issues. These local ambassadors also educate the communities they visit, explaining the importance of the vaccination program. By learning from participants—and keeping them involved in the process—the household surveys help the project continue to advance the health of the Serengeti ecosystem.


Bringing the Lab to the Field

African wild dogs outside Serengeti National Park are attacking cattle, a natural behavior for these endangered predators, but one that’s certain to spark conflict with local herders. Scientists propose relocating the wild dogs into the park—a win-win situation for conservation and cattle—but they want to ensure that the move doesn’t cause more stress than it resolves.  

Enter endocrinologist Rachel Santymire, Ph.D., director of the Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology. By developing a field kit to preserve samples in the absence of electricity or refrigeration, she’s helped rangers and researchers collect data from the most remote reaches of the park. Fecal samples are noninvasively collected and then treated and shipped to Lincoln Park Zoo for analysis. That data that’s produced—stress hormone levels before, during and after relocations—helps scientists to better understand, and better protect, the wildlife of the Serengeti.