Wildebeest threatened by foot-and-mouth outbreak

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The Independent Online

The annual migration of 1.5 million Serengeti wildebeest is threatened by the first confirmed outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the herds.

The annual migration of 1.5 million Serengeti wildebeest is threatened by the first confirmed outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the herds.

Dr Titus Mlengenya, the chief veterinary officer for Tanzania National Parks, said: "In herds of wildebeest affected by the the outbreak, up to 20 per cent of animals are lame." The disease is highly contagious among cloven-hoofed animals but does not affect humans, veterinarians said.

The wildebeest - also known as gnu - move from the Serengeti National Park to the Masai Mara park in neighbouring Kenya every year in July to mate and graze before returning to the Tanzanian park to calve. Such a massive migration does not occur among wildebeest in other parts of Africa and has never been explained.

Dr Mlengenya said foot-and-mouth mortality rates range from 5 per cent for full-grown animals to 75 per cent for newborns. He did not say what could be done to prevent the spread of the disease in the Serengeti but hinted that the outbreak had probably come from domestic animals. Cattle and pigs are generally quarantined and slaughtered in an outbreak.

"In order to minimise diseases around national parks, policies must be developed on the basis of sound epidemiological and economic analysis, and must consider the dynamics of wildlife and domestic animal interactions," he told a conference of Tanzanian wildlife experts.

Foot and mouth, which is endemic among some wild animals such as Cape buffalo in South Africa, has affected large parts of southern and eastern Africa this year.

In Zimbabwe, war veterans occupying game parks to protest against inequitable land distribution have been accused of adding to the problem by tearing down perimeter fencing, allowing contact between buffalo and domestic animals.

South Africa has since September been in the grips of its first major foot-and-mouth outbreak for 44 years. It was traced to infected pig swill from Asia. As a result, 28 countries have stopped buying South African red meat and the country's Agriculture Ministry claims £200m has been lost in cancelled exports. More than 9,000 animals have been slaughtered.

Even though South African farmers receive compensation, the figures are small. One KwaZulu-Natal farmer told a South African newspaper that he expected to have to take his daughter out of school after losing 11 heads of cattle it had taken him 25 years to accumulate and receiving only £2,700 in compensation.

? An outbreak of anthrax in Zimbabwe was reported yesterday to have killed nine people and 70 cattle after spreading from Mhondoro to Mashonaland East. The country's department of veterinary services said 757 people had been treated for anthrax so far.