Buffalo dying too in Bwabwata from suspected anthrax

By John Muyamba

Bwabwata – An aerial assessment has revealed the carcasses of 20 buffalo suspected of dying from anthrax contamination that has killed nearly 110 hippos since the start of October in the popular tourist destination, Bwabwata National Park.

Yesterday, Environment Minister Pohamba Shifeta informed parliament that the laboratory tests are underway, but so far no final results are available on the possible cause of death of the animals.

“The Rundu Office of the State Veterinarian took samples for laboratory tests on Monday to determine the exact cause of mortality,” Shifeta told parliament.

A high-level delegation from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry will be visiting Bwabwata West today for an assessment, while a third mortality count is due to be conducted by boat on Thursday.

Established in 2007 as a national game reserve the Bwabwata national park measures 6,274 square kilometres in size and is located along a stretch of 24 kilometres of the Kavango River.

Situated in north-eastern Namibia nearly 700 kilometres from the capital city, Windhoek, the park has wetland areas that host a significant number of wetland animals, including hippos and crocodiles that are said to be at high risk of dying from anthrax contamination.

Namibia’s national populations of hippos is estimated at just over 3,000, while buffaloes are estimated at around 7,000 animals. Shifeta said the population of hippopotamus in Bwabwata West specifically had increased from an estimated 384 animals in 2013 to 539 in 2017.

The deputy director for the north-eastern regions in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), Apollinaris Kanyinga, told New Era at Rundu that the 20 buffalo carcases were spotted when MET officials flew over the park.

The carcasses were detected near streams connecting to the perennial Kavango River, where 107 hippos deaths have been recorded since October 2. The environment minister out the number of dead hippos at 109, and not 107, as indicated by the director in the region.

On October 2, 52 dead hippos were discovered. By October 7, the number of dead hippos had increased to 107 during the second count and 20 buffaloes were also discovered during that count last weekend. “We still didn’t do a third count,” Kanyinga said.

Kanyinga said the state veterinarians from the Ministry of Agriculture were still in the park to test for and confirm the prevalence of the lethal anthrax disease believed to be killing the wildlife in considerable numbers.
Shifeta said the destruction of the carcasses had started and would continue, as and when practical. To date, he said MET staff had disposed of only three hippopotamus carcasses.

“Carcasses are both on land and water. The regional (MET) office has started the process to procure protective gear for staff members involved in this situation,” Shifeta said.

He said the Ministry of Health and Social Services had also been informed and was very much involved, saying it had given 500 disposable nose masks to the MET.

Due to the risk posed by anthrax contamination, Shifeta said local communities have been sensitised not to touch any carcass or to consume any meat from wildlife found dead in the environment.

Anthrax is suspected to be the main cause of the rising wildlife mortality figures. Shifeta said the assumption was that the low level of the Kavango River caused anthrax bacteria, which occur naturally in the environment, to become active.

Bwabwata National Park spreads over the Zambezi and Kavango East regions, extending along the Zambezi Strip. It is bounded by the Kavango River to the west and the Kwando River to the east. Angola lies to the north and Botswana to the south.

The park, which forms part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, is a popular destination for tourists. –  New Era.

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