Thursday, November 10, 2011
Saturday, 05 November 2011 22:36
By Tafadzwa Chiremba recently in MAKUTI
MORE than 40 animals in game parks along the Zambezi Valley have died over the past two months following a suspected anthrax outbreak that has also affected Zambia where about 230 people reportedly contracted the disease.
Thirty-three hippopotamuses, eight lions, two buffaloes, impalas and birds were found dead on the Zimbabwean side after the flooding Zambezi River subsided. The Parks and Wildlife Management Authority of Zimbabwe has since dispatched samples to the University of Zimbabwe Veterinary Services Department and South Africa for tests.
The test results could not be obtained by last week. The director-general of the authority, Mr Vitalis Chadenga, said preliminary indications showed that anthrax could be responsible for the deaths.
“Indications are that the animals died of anthrax. We are working with the University of Zimbabwe Veterinary Services Department in conducting tests,” he said.
Rangers discovered the first carcasses in September. More were later found along the valley where they are suspected to have died unnoticed.
Initially, reports suggested poachers were poisoning drinking pans in order to get elephant tusks. However, the giant mammals that died were not dismembered.
When The Sunday Mail visited Hambakwe Forest near Makuti, about 77km from Kariba, last week, elephant carcasses were strewn all over.
Several vultures that had fed on the contaminated flesh lay next to them. Most of the hippos were found dead in the Zambezi River.
Mr Chadenga said the deaths showed distinct traces of the deadly anthrax disease.
“The pattern of deaths is very much suggestive of anthrax bacterial mortality,” he said.
“Mortality appeared to have followed soon after floods in the Zambezi River subsided. Laboratory tests are under way in this country and in South Africa.”
Last month, reports from Zambia said more than 230 suspected cases were detected in humans. All the patients either ate or touched diseased hippo meat.
The source of the outbreak was believed to be a population of hippos in the Luangwa River where 62 animals died after showing signs of bacillus anthracis infection.
Laboratory results were positive.
The authorities promptly cordoned off Chama district where the cases were reported.
Apart from confiscating and destroying the hippo meat and carcasses, they also increased surveillance and community education.
Anthrax is a deadly disease that is caused by a bacterium known as bacillus anthracis.
It usually infects wild and domesticated herbivorous mammals that ingest or inhale dormant endospores formed from the bacterium.
Carnivores living in the same environment may contract the disease by consuming infected animals. Diseased animals can also spread anthrax to humans through direct contact. Some forms of the disease respond to antibiotic treatment, according to health experts.