6 November 2012

South Africa: Anthrax Claims 30 Hippopotamus

Pretoria — The outbreak of anthrax in the north of the Kruger National Park (KNP) has claimed the lives of 30 hippopotamus in the Letaba and Olifants River in the past two weeks.

This was confirmed by post mortem results from some of the carcasses that suggest they were infected by the bacteria.

SANParks spokesperson Reynold Thakhuli said a total of 30 hippo carcasses have been found up to now and Park Rangers are closely monitoring the situation.

"Members of the public are urged to report any sightings to the nearest camp and not to touch the carcasses.

"The State Veterinarians are busy examining six carcasses that were found over the weekend and will issue the results as soon as they're available," Thakhuli said.

Anthrax is a highly infectious disease of animals caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis.

It is thought that the disease is spread mainly through vultures and blowflies. Vultures are immune against anthrax and they spread the disease by consuming contaminated meat from affected carcasses and then defecating in water bodies where they regularly drink or bath. The toxins released by the bacteria when it sporulates are also fatal to some species.

According to Thakhuli, anthrax outbreaks are a natural occurrence in the northern Kruger National Park and occur more or less every 10 years, apparently related to the end of dry cycles.

It usually occurs during the dry months of the year. Since 1960, eight major anthrax outbreaks have occurred in the KNP (1960, 1970, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1999, 2010 and 2012).

It is also closely linked to population density when certain species like kudu and hippo reach high densities then anthrax spreads more rapidly.

The disease is also the only disease in KNP that needs to kill its host in order to propagate itself.

In all the outbreaks before the disease naturally dissipates when the rains start and when animal densities decrease, so it can be considered a "natural regulator" of animal densities.

The current outbreak has seen relatively low numbers of cases in relation to population sizes of species affected.

During the previous outbreak of 2010 in the Nxanatseni region it was estimated that approximately 2000 animals had died.

"The Kruger National Park rangers are currently monitoring the situation on a daily basis to determine if they are more carcasses in the rivers," said Thakhuli.

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