WSU Global Health - Bangladesh

Felix Lankester

Felix Lankester

Associate Professor & Director of Rabies Free Tanzania


  • WSU Paul G. Allen School for Global Health

Affiliated Organizations

  • Global Animal Health - Tanzania
  • Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (Tanzania)
  • Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance
  • Limbe Wildlife Center (Cameroon)
  • Royal Veterinary College (UK)
  • University of Glasgow (UK)



Dr. Felix Lankester, a veterinarian with an ecology and environmental biology PhD, is a Clinical Associate Professor at the Washington State University.  Paul G. Allen School for Global Health. Lankester is also the regional representative of Global Health - Tanzania, an NGO carrying out research on infectious diseases that impact livelihoods in East Africa, and he is the Director of the Serengeti Health Initiative, an organization implementing animal disease control programs in and around the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.  He is also a co-Director of the Pandrillus Foundation – an organization implementing primate conservation projects in Nigeria and Cameroon.  Broad areas of interest include global health / One Health, zoonotic diseases and wildlife conservation. Current research interests include investigating novel methods of rabies vaccine delivery (e.g. the use of thermotolerant vaccines, incentive payment schemes and integrated mass drug delivery strategies) that, it is hoped, will play a transformative role in efforts to eliminate human rabies globally by 2030. 

Personal Statement

I originally became a veterinarian because I wanted to work in wildlife conservation and indeed that is where my career took me.  I have had various spells working as a wildlife vet with great ape conservation in Borneo (with orangutans) and in Cameroon (with chimpanzees and gorillas).  However, when I first graduated as a vet I also had a yearning to work in a job that was more creative and so I spent a number of years working a parallel career in wildlife film production.  This was probably the easiest time of my life as I seemed to spend my days travelling around the world with a camera crew trying to capture wonderful wildlife behavior on film.  All good things must come to an end and I soon realized that if I was to make a difference I should return to my veterinary roots and get serious about science.  I studied for my Masters in Wild Animal Health and more latterly a PhD in infectious disease. I now find myself working on the interface between humans, livestock and wildlife investigating infectious diseases that transcend these sectors, impacting health, conservation and livelihoods.  My rather round about career, in which I focused on various different aspects of medicine and conservation, has now brought me to a place where all of these skills have value.  When not working, I enjoy sailing, surfing, playing poker and being beaten at football by my three young boys.

Education and Training

I trained to be a veterinarian at the University of Liverpool (UK), after which I studied for a Master of Science degree in Wild Animal 

General Research / Expertise

I am based full time in East Africa where I lead and collaborate on a number of global health / One Health research projects.  These projects have a particular focus on rabies, which still kills around 60,000 people (mainly children) each year.  We are looking at ways to control the disease through mass vaccination of domestic dogs, which may seem straightforward but, given the remote landscapes where the disease is endemic, is anything but. 

I also remain involved in great ape conservation and am a Director of the Pandrillus Foundation, an organization based in Portland (Oregon), Nigeria and Cameroon that works towards the preservation of threatened great ape species through habitat protection, conservation education, and law enforcement tackling the bush meat trade.

Research Contributions

‘Zero by 30’ is a commitment by the World Health Organization to reduce to zero the number of human rabies deaths occurring globally by 2030. Given 60,000 people are dying annually from this disease, achieving this commitment will be a huge challenge and much of the work that we do in East Africa is focused on making this commitment a reality.  To achieve zero deaths by 2030 domestic dogs, which carry the rabies virus and spread it through bites to humans, need to be vaccinated en mass.  With many of these dogs living in remote communities in Africa and Asia distributing and storing vaccines in these areas is a huge problem.  One of the principle difficulties is storing the vaccines within refrigeration units in places where there is limited or no power.  As such we have undertaken research investigating whether a commonly used rabies vaccine can be stored at ambient temperatures for extended periods without losing its potency to protect dogs.  The results of this research have shown that the tested vaccine is indeed stable when stored at high temperatures for many weeks. This exciting result has now allowed us to begin designing and testing new vaccine delivery strategies which we hope will lead to improved delivery of vaccines to remote areas at reduced cost. If successful, these studies will contribute significantly to achieving the Zero by 30 goal.

Research Details

Analysis of novel methods to improve rabies control: If the international commitment to achieve zero human deaths from rabies by 2030 is to be achieved, novel and effective mass dog vaccination (MDV) delivery strategies are required. To control the disease through MDV, 20-40% of domestic dogs must be vaccinated in all communities. Achieving this through annual team-led delivery is problematic, especially in hard-to-reach areas of Africa and Asia. Consequently, my research has focused primarily on the development of novel, cost-effective intervention strategies that will improve our ability to deliver MDV. For example, I am currently leading a research project, funded through a WSU intra-mural award, investigating whether variable incentive payments paid to village rabies vaccinators increase the proportion of village dogs that are vaccinated. The fieldwork for this project is in progress. Furthermore, I was the PI on a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenge Award investigating whether co-hosting MDV rabies clinics together with mass deworming clinics for people (both addressing neglected tropical diseases) is a feasible and cost-effective method for delivering public health interventions in remote areas. 

The outcomes from this research, which are being prepared for publication, indicate that a One Health delivery approach is feasible and results in substantial reductions in the costs of delivery. Key findings from other research programs that I have led are that i) cheap incentives provided to dog owners, such as dog collars, are a cost-effective strategy for improving turnout and coverage, and ii) randomized household questionnaire surveys are preferable to mark-re-sight transect surveys for post-vaccination monitoring of coverage (1). Continuing with this line of investigation, I recently completed a study investigating whether a commonly used rabies vaccine remained potent (i.e. immunogenicity to a protective level) following extended storage at temperatures outside of cold-chain conditions (4°C). The outcome of this trial, that the vaccine remained potent following storage up to 30°C for three months (2), means that we are now in a position to design and test novel delivery strategies. The proposed study therefore seeks to investigate whether, in comparison with the standard centralized team-led MDV approach, vaccination coverage is improved, delivery costs are reduced and the public health burden of rabies eased when a decentralized community-led approach (using non cold-chain stored vaccines) is used to deliver MDV in remote villages in Tanzania. The outcome of this scientific body of work has the potential for transformative impact on the design and delivery of MDV efforts in remote rabies endemic settings. Given the highly ambitious global commitment to eliminate human rabies by 2030, this research is timely.

  1. Minyoo AB, Steinmetz M, Czupryna A, Bigambo M, Mzimbiri I, Powell G, Gwakisa P, Lankester F. (2015). Incentives increase participation in mass dog rabies vaccination clinics and methods of coverage estimation are assessed to be accurate. PLoS NTD 9(12): e0004221.doi:10.1371/journal.pnted.0004221
  2. Lankester FJ, Wouters PAWM, Czupryna A, Palmer GH, Mzimbiri I, Cleaveland S, Francis MJ, Sutton DJ, Sonnemans DGP. (2016). Thermotolerance of an inactivated rabies vaccine for dogs. Vaccine 34(46), 5504–5511. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.10.015

Malignant catarrhal fever vaccine trials and economic impact assessment: Malignant catarrhal fever (MCF) is a lethal herpesvirus infection that causes significant losses in cattle and other susceptible species and impacts livelihoods on a seasonal basis in East Africa. Following the development of a novel vaccine strategy, I led a series of field trials to test the vaccine under natural conditions and determined the efficacy in Tanzanian zebu cattle to be 56%, less than that calculated in the experimental trials on British Friesian Holsteins (1). In efforts to improve the vaccine’s efficacy, I led a further series of experimental trials that investigated the impact that different adjuvants had on the immunogenicity of the vaccine. The trials showed that the adjuvant Emulsigen® wasthe most effective, that the vaccine might be less potent in zebu compared to European breeds of cattle and that the African breed may have a degree of natural resistance to MCF (2). Continuing the focus on MCF, I led a laboratory-based team at the Moredun Research Institute (UK) that demonstrated for the first time that wildebeest placenta contain the MCF virus, suggesting these tissues could play a role in the transmission of the disease through contamination of pasture (3). Finally, to determine the impact that MCF has on pastoral people living in northern Tanzania, I led a socio-economic impact study that identified how this disease, and its costly avoidance, impact household economics (4). This research program, and the series of papers that it produced, have led to further vaccine developments and national government interest in the distribution of the vaccine to affected cattle-keeping communities in eastern and southern Africa. As a result I, together with colleagues from Europe and East Africa, organized and hosted a strategic planning meeting in December 2017 to discuss plans for in situ manufacture and distribution of the vaccine. The expected long-term outcome of these activities will be the reduction of the incidence of this fatal livestock disease and the release of pastoral people from costly disease avoidance strategies that currently constrain livelihoods.

  1. Lankester FJ, Russell GC, Lugelo A, Ndabigaye A, Mnyambwa N, Keyyu J, Kazwala R, Grant D, Percival A, Deane D, Haig DM, Cleaveland S. (2016). A field vaccine trial in Tanzania demonstrates partial protection against malignant catarrhal fever in cattle. Vaccine 34(6), 831–838. doi:10.1016/vaccine.2015.12.009
  2. Lankester F, Lugelo A, Werling D, Mnyambwa N, Keyyu J, Kazwala R, Grant D, Smith S, Parameswaran, N, Cleaveland S, Russell G, Haig D. (2016). The efficacy of alcelaphine herpesvirus-1 (AlHV-1) immunization with the adjuvants Emulsigen® and the monomeric TLR5 ligand FliC in zebu cattle against AlHV-1 malignant catarrhal fever induced by experimental virus challenge. Vet. Microbiol. 195: 144–153. doi:10.1016/j.vetmic.2016.09.019
  3. Lankester FJ, Lugelo A, Mnyambwa N, Ndabigaye A, Keyyu J, Kazwala R, Grant D, Relf V, Haig DM, Cleaveland S, Russell GC. (2015). Alcelaphine herpesvirus-1 (malignant catarrhal fever virus) in wildebeest placenta: genetic variation of ORF50 and A9.5 alleles. PLoS One 10(5): e124121. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0124121
  4. Lankester FJ, Lugelo A, Kazwala R, Keyyu J, Cleaveland S, Yoder J. (2015). The economic impact of malignant catarrhal fever on pastoralist livelihoods. PLoS One 10(1): e0116059. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116059

Investigation of anthrax in wild great ape populations: In association with the Robert Kock Institute (Germany) I investigated an outbreak of anthrax infection in African great ape populations. These studies provided the first evidence that anthrax is a cause of mortality in wild gorilla populations (1) and, more recently, through full genome analyses of four atypical Bacillus cereus isolates (designated B. cereus biovar anthracis) we described a distinct clade within the Bacillus cereus group that presents with anthrax-like disease (2).

  1. Leendertz FH, Lankester F, Guislain P, Neel C, Drori O, Dupain J, Speede S, Reed P, Wolfe N, Loul S, Mpoudi-Ngole E, Peeters M, Boesch C, Pauli G, Ellerbrok H, Leroy EM. (2006). Anthrax in Western and Central African Great Apes. Am. J. Primatol. 68(9): 928–933. doi:10.1002/ajp.20298
  2. Antonation KS, Grützmacher K, Dupke S, Mabon P, Zimmermann F, Lankester F, Peller T, Feistner A, Todd A, Herbinger I, de Nys HM, Muyembe-Tamfun J-J, Karhemere S, Wittig RM, Couacy-Hymann E, Grunow R, Calvignac-Spencer S, Corbett CR, Klee SR, Leendertz FH. (2016). Bacillus cereus Biovar Anthracis Causing Anthrax in Sub-Saharan Africa—Chromosomal Monophyly and Broad Geographic Distribution. PLoS Negl. Trop. Dis. 10(9), e0004923. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0004923
Select Publications
  • Lankester FJ, Wouters PAWM, Czupryna A, Palmer GH, Mzimbiri I, Cleaveland S, Francis MJ, Sutton DJ, Sonnemans DGP. (2016) Thermotolerance of an inactivated rabies vaccine for dogs. Vaccine. 34(46):5504-5511. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.10.015. PMID: 27729174 PMCID:
  • Lankester F. and Davis A (2016) Pastoralism and wildlife: historical and current perspectives in the East African rangelands of Kenya and Tanzania. Revue Scientifique et Technique (International Office of Epizootics) 35(2):473-484. doi: 10.20506/rst.35.2.2536. PMID: 27917978 PMCID:
  • Lankester F, Russell GC, Lugelo A, Ndabigaye A, Mnyambwa N, Keyyu J, Kazwala R, Grant D, Percival A, Deane D, Haig DM, Cleaveland S. (2016) A field vaccine trial in Tanzania demonstrates partial protection against malignant catarrhal fever in cattle. Vaccine. 34(6):831-8. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2015.12.009. PMID: 26706270 PMCID: PMC4742522
  • Lankester F, Lugelo A, Kazwala R, Keyyu J, Cleaveland S, Yoder J. (2015) The economic impact of malignant catarrhal fever on pastoralist livelihoods. PLoS One. 10(1):e0116059. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116059. PMID: 25629896 PMCID: PMC4309580
  • Lankester F, Hampson K, Lembo T, Palmer G, Taylor L, Cleaveland S. (2014) Infectious Disease. Implementing Pasteur's vision for rabies elimination. Science. 345(6204):1562-4. doi: 10.1126/science.1256306. PMID: 25258065 PMCID:

List of Publications

  • 2012 - University of Glasgow – Post-Graduate Skills Training Award winner
  • 2012 - International Society for Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics – Bursary Award winner
  • 2013 - Royal Veterinary College (UK) – Veterinary Epidemiology and Animal Health Economics Certificate
  • 2014 - University of Glasgow – Lister-Bellahouston Traveling Fellowship 2014 Award winner
  • 2014 - University of Glasgow – Post-Graduate Skills Training Award winner