Ecologists develop vaccine to save Endangered albatrosses

A new vaccine has been created which could help albatrosses in the southern Indian Ocean.

An Indian yellow-nosed albatross. © JJ Harrison/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

From the 1980s, avian cholera – perhaps carried by feral cattle – has caused mass deaths of albatross chicks on Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean.

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These include the young of the Amsterdam albatross and two-thirds of the world population of Indian yellow-nosed albatross (both listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List).

Now, French ecologists have developed a vaccine that, in field trials, has greatly boosted chick survival.

Amsterdam Island is one of the most remote places in the world, sitting more than 3,000km away from its nearest neighbouring large land masses.

Its isolation made it a hotspot for evolution of some bird species found nowhere else. Several of these are now extinct, but 40–50 pairs of Amsterdam albatrosses cling on.

An adult Amsterdam albatross feeding its chick. © Vincent Legendre/Wikimedia/Creative Commons
An adult Amsterdam albatross feeding its chick. © Vincent Legendre/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

Using material taken from a dead sooty albatross, a research team, led by Vincent Bourret, developed a vaccine, which they injected into very young Indian yellow-nosed albatross chicks on the island.

The results, published last year, show that just under half of the vaccinated birds lived to fledging, compared with around one in seven unvaccinated chicks. 

As well as giving a potential boost to albatrosses on Amsterdam Island, the researchers say that vaccination could be a key tool to protect endangered seabirds elsewhere from disease.

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Read the paper in Conservation Letters.