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  • The bronze statue of a wild buffalo near the entrance to Meru National Park, Kenya [©FAO/T. Karumba]

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AGA IN ACTION

Rinderpest: Monument in Kenya marks countdown to global eradication

In November, President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya unveiled a massive, bronze statue of a wild buffalo near the entrance to Meru National Park, the site of the world’s last-confirmed case of rinderpest, or cattle plague.

 

The unveiling recalled Kenya’s eradication of rinderpest in 2009, another notch in the countdown to global eradication of the disease. Global eradication would make rinderpest the first animal disease, and only the second disease ever, to be eliminated thanks to human efforts.

 

A handful of remaining countries are expected to be formally recognized as rinderpest-free by May 2011, from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). A joint FAO-OIE Global Declaration is expected immediately thereafter, and the eradication of rinderpest will be highlighted during FAO’s Conference in June 2011, with the unveiling of another monument.

 

The decades-long, international campaign to rid the world of rinderpest, most recently under FAO’s Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP), has been successful, in part, due to Kenya’s pivotal role and regional position.

 

Kenya is home to some 17 million head of cattle, according to the Department of Veterinary Services. It is also home to buffalos and other susceptible wildlife, which play a key role in the country’s tourism economy and biodiversity.

 

The country makes up part of the vast Somali ecosystem, a transboundary trade and migration route for more than 7 000 000 head of cattle, which also cuts through parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti. This area is crucial to livelihoods and food security in the region.

 

Science and partnerships

 

Kenya has made a major scientific contribution to the global rinderpest eradication effort. During the first African panzootic occurrence (1890s), the first veterinarians ever assigned to Kenya - Scottish veterinarians R.J. Stordy and F. R. Brand - established a serum production station to guard against potential infection in the European- settled area.

 

In the late 1950’s, W. Plowright and R.D. Ferris developed a groundbreaking rinderpest vaccine while working there. Since then, the country has been a regional hub for field testing and laboratory analysis for the morbillivirus that causes rinderpest.

 

Kenya is also home to the African Union’s Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU/IBAR). It was set up to coordinate transboundary efforts to control the disease, following a 1948 Pan-African meeting organized in Nairobi by FAO and the British Colonial office.

 

The 26 November unveiling ceremony in Meru capped a series of commemorative events held that week by Kenya’s Department of Veterinary Services, including a scientific conference on lessons learned from rinderpest and the ongoing challenges posed by other animal diseases.

 

The events drew delegations from FAO; AU/IBAR and the AU’s Pan African Veterinary Vaccine Centre (PANVAC); the European Union, and other institutional partners, in addition to veterinarians from the region, pastoralists, and farmers from the area.

 

GREP was launched in 1994 as a global coordination mechanism, made possible in Africa, Asia and Europe with support from the European Union and other major donors.