How Chicken Heads Saved Switzerland From Rabid Foxes

By Anupum Pant

It’s believed that rabies first arrived on the mainland of Europe in the year 1947. As years passed, the disease steadily started spreading westwards at a rough rate of about 50 km per year. From Poland, towards the west, it started moving into Austria, Germany and Parts of Italy by the year 1970. Now it was Switzerland’s turn to see the deadly disease attack their place. The decided to do something to prevent that from happening. Of course it wasn’t easy. There were problems…

Sad, they had to deal with a couple of problems first.

First, to prevent rabies from reaching the upper reaches of Rhode valley, scientists knew that vaccines composed of artificial or dead viruses would just not work. Doctors at the university of Berne tried testing a weakened live virus vaccines in field tests. These field trials were indeed successful. Still, they knew it could be extremely dangerous if the live virus vaccines started propagating the disease instead of stopping it. So there was a widespread ban on using live virus vaccines.

There was a second problem too. The chief carriers of rabies virus were foxes and to spread the vaccine among them was a pain because if the vaccine went into their stomach, the juices there would make it completely ineffective. To deal with that problem they knew they had to administer a live virus through the lining of the fox’s mouth. It didn’t seem like a possible idea.

And then there was a talk to keep the virus alive inside an egg till the fox finds it. Alas, foxes didn’t like eggs that much. They preferred storing the eggs somewhere, which killed the live virus, making it ineffective.

Alexander Wandeler, the chief organiser of the vaccine trials had a better idea for the future.

To the relief of Swiss vets, the ban on using live and weakened viruses in vaccines was lifted in the year 1983 (I suppose).  Now they knew exactly what to do to prevent rabies from spreading into their country. Alexander’s idea was to hide the vaccine and the egg yolk inside a chicken head (something which the foxes like a lot). So the chicken heads became makeshift syringes to administer the rabies vaccine to foxes. And it worked.

Now if that was too long to read, I’ve decided to include a shorter 10-second version at the end of relatively bigger stories. Tell me if it works for you in the comments section. It’s important to me that you do. Thanks.

Chicken heads laced with weakened virus, which foxes ate to immunize themselves, saved Switzerland. As a result Rabies was virtually eradicated from the country.

via [New Scientist – Jan 13, 1983]

So, What Does The Fox Say?

By Anupum Pant

One of the most popular videos on YouTube last year was a song sung by two Norwegian brothers titled, The Fox. I’m not sure what was it exactly that made the video go viral, which is not to say that it wasn’t funny.

I think it was those absurd lyrics dropped at a time when you expect something serious, made it so popular. With an infectious catchy tune, the lyrics of this song seem very childish and at the same time, it is sung in a serious tone.
Popularity kept aside for a while, the number poses an important question which not many of us must have considered – What does the fox say? Makes us go looking for answers, doesn’t it?

As scientists would put it, the question this song poses, is indeed a challenging one. It isn’t easy to generally vocalize the sound made by a fox. Also, foxes make variation of sounds for different situations. Moreover, that, there are varieties of foxes out there, makes it even more difficult to answer the question.

The high pitched bark:
For instance, the red fox, which is the most common variety of fox, screams in a high-pitched bark. It sounds like a woman screaming in distress. In words, it sounds like a YAAGGAGHHGHHHHH. And is exactly the reason we aren’t taught this at school. Imagine, the teacher teaching with a YAAGGAGHHGHHHHH in a classroom.

The bird like sound:
When they fight, foxes can sound like birds. Unlike the screams discussed above, these sounds aren’t heard for long distances. Little fox pups also make these guttural sounds when they play. The sound is called Gekkering.

The high-pitched howl:
When greeting a more powerful foxes, weaker ones make a very high-pitched howl that can be heard for several kilometers.

Apart from these broad categories, they make several other subtle variations for different situations. The video below has a good collection of fox sounds:

On that note

What do you think the Cheetah says? Most of us have seen a cheetah (probably at the zoo), but not many must have heard it talk. It may come as a surprise to you that Cheetahs chirp like birds. Or you could call it more of a cat-fight sound.

Enhanced by Zemanta