Assessing anti-rabies baiting - what happens on the ground?
Rabies is one of the most hazardous zoonoses in the world. Oral mass vaccination has developed into the most effective management method to control fox rabies. The future need to control the disease in large countries (i.e. Eastern Europe and the Americas) forces cost-benefit discussions. The 'Increase bait density' option refers to the usual management assumption that more baits per km(2) could compensate for high fox abundance and override the imperfect supply of bait pieces to the individual fox. Methods: We use a spatial simulation, which combines explicitly fox space use ( tessellation polygons) and aeroplane flight lines (straight lines). The number of baits actually falling into each polygon is measured. The manager's strategic options are converted into changes of the resulting bait distribution on the ground. The comparison enables the rating of the options with respect to the management aim (i.e. accessibility of baits). Results: Above 5% (approx. 10%) of all fox groups without any bait ( at most 5 baits) relate to the baiting strategy applied in the field (1 km spaced parallel flight lines, 20 baits per km2 distributed) under habitat conditions comparable to middle and western Europe (fox group home-range 1 km(2), 2.5 adults; reference strategy). Increasing the bait density on the same flight-line pattern neither reduces the number of under-baited fox group home-ranges, nor improves the management outcome and hence wastes resources. However, reducing the flight line distance provides a more even bait distribution and thus compensates for missed fox groups or extra high fox density. The reference strategy's bait density can be reduced when accounting for the missed fox groups. The management result with the proper strategy is likely the same but with reduced costs. Conclusion: There is no overall optimal strategy for the bait distribution in large areas. For major parts of the landscape, the reference strategy will be more competitive. In situations where set backs are attributed to non-homogeneous bait accessibility the distribution scheme has to be refined zone-based (i.e. increase of the flight line length per unit area). However, increase in bait density above the reference strategy appears inappropriate at least for non-urban abundance conditions of the red fox