News / Toronto

Helicopters will be dropping vanilla-scented rabies vaccines all over Toronto

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry drop the tasty vaccine in a 50km radius of any reported case of rabies. The vaccine targets raccoons, skunks and foxes.

Raccoons will be attracted to the sweet scent of the baits.

Torstar News Service Order this photo

Raccoons will be attracted to the sweet scent of the baits.

Watch your head, vanilla scented lard will be falling from the sky this August in the city's west end as baited rabies vaccines are dropped from helicopters. The baits are to prevent the spread of raccoon strain rabies as it makes a resurgence in Ontario for the first time since 2005.

Crews from Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry are bringing in aerial support to drop baited vaccines across Southern Ontario. Crews have already begun dropping the baits by hand in green areas west of Toronto's Yonge Street.

Beverly Stevenson, a science transfer specialist with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, says the baits are a preventative measure.

"The closest reported case of rabies is in Burlington, which is almost 60 kilometres away," she says.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry drop the tasty vaccine in a 50km radius of any reported case of rabies. The vaccine targets raccoons, skunks and foxes.

Crews dropping the medicated snacks by hand started this week and runs until September and they'll begin falling from helicopters in August. Over the course of the baiting period 250,000 to 275,000 of them will be dropped.

All vaccine drops must be done in daylight, the helicopter sweet-lard drop will be done over ravines and green areas. Come August, it might be advisable to take an umbrella to avoid being hit by falling vaccines, though Stevenson says they're small and light enough that they won't hurt anyone.

The dark green candy coating covers a plastic blister pack containing the vaccine. The bait contains vegetable lard, icing sugar and marshmallow flavouring. When the animal bites into their green snack, the blister pack is punctured and the vaccine is absorbed through the mouth.

Two weeks after consumption, the animal will be vaccinated against rabies for over a year. Steveson says over 60 per cent of Ontario wildlife has been vaccinated.

The sweet scented baits might attract dogs, there's no need to worry. The fattiness of the lard may upset a pet's stomach, but the vaccine won't harm them, but it also won't replace their regular rabies vaccine.

"There is very little risk to dogs from the vaccine," says Maureen Anderson, lead veterinarian animal health and welfare with Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

"It's a very, very safe vaccine in that sense," she says.

It seems raccoons and skunks enjoy their marshmallow flavoured snacks, says Anderson.

"There have been cameras on bait stations and you can see raccoons helping themselves to the baits."

What to do if you find a bait:

If it is in a green area with low dog traffic, leave it alone. A hungry raccoon or skunk will come along and find it. If you have to move it from your property or to a safer place, use gloves or a plastic bag and then dispose of the items used for handling and wash hands thoroughly. If your pet comes in contact with the bait, the lard may upset their stomach, but it is otherwise harmless. If you touch the bait, wash your hands with soap and water. 

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