Anthrax fears rise

Several hippo carcasses have entered the Okavango Delta from Namibia and tests indicate they are positive for anthrax.

18 October 2017 | Environment

Botswana authorities are on high alert following the discovery of hippo carcasses in the Okavango River that succumbed to an anthrax outbreak in Namibia.

These carcasses have made their way into the Botswana territory with the flowing river from Namibia and authorities are concerned that the scores of hippo carcasses are posing a health hazard in areas along the river.

The Okavango Delta is not only a major tourist attraction in southern Africa, but also a very important conservation area, supporting a diverse range of wildlife.

There has been, however, criticism that authorities in Namibia could have acted faster in disposing of the carcasses.

Namibia confirmed an outbreak of anthrax in the Mahango Game Reserve of Bwabwata National Park last week, which killed 120 hippos and 25 buffalo.

Mass deaths of hippos were reported in the Okavango River on the Namibian side since 1 October.

The mass deaths were confirmed by government officials on 7 October after an aerial survey by helicopter.

The outbreak of anthrax was officially confirmed on 11 October by the Namibian authorities.

According to the spokesperson of Namibia's environment ministry, Romeo Muyunda, 64 hippo carcasses have been removed and destroyed.

The carcasses are burnt to avoid spreading of the disease.

Muyunda said that by Saturday evening 20 carcasses were destroyed and another 32 carcasses were burned on Sunday.

“On Monday, 12 carcasses were also removed from the river and the work is ongoing,” Muyunda told Namibian Sun.

He said currently new counts of carcasses are not being done because the focus is on removing the existing carcasses from the river. “We will count the carcasses as we remove and destroy them, but we are not diverting our attention at the moment. We are doing the best we can to clean the river.”

According to him, Botswana is in the process of putting up a mesh wire at the border between Namibia and Botswana to prevent any animals infected with anthrax from coming into their country.

In a statement issued by the Botswana government, it said hippo carcasses floating in the Okavango River crossed into Botswana from Namibia.

The river, which flows into the northern part of Botswana, is shared between Botswana, Namibia and Angola.

With the contagious nature of the disease, authorities have been on alert to avert any possible spread of the disease into the Okavango area.

This is not the first time the two countries experienced the devastating effects of anthrax.

In 2004, Botswana experienced a massive anthrax outbreak in the Chobe National Park which later spread to Namibia and also threatened the tourism industry.

The outbreak which led to the closure of some parts of the Chobe National Park was responsible for deaths of over 200 buffaloes and other animal species.

Anthrax is an infection caused by bacteria, Bacillus anthracis, usually transmitted from infected animals. It causes skin, lung and bowel disease. Most anthrax infections are deadly and occur when people touch contaminated animals and/or their products like wool, bone, hair, hide, as well as touching or consuming their carcasses. The infection occurs when the bacteria enters a cut on the skin.


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