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FAO facilitates wild animal and disease monitoring in Zimbabwe

15 May 2015 - In recent years Zimbabwe has seen more interaction between wildlife, domestic animals and human beings thereby increasing the risk of diseases emerging and spreading between species. This poses a threat to the livelihoods, health and incomes of communities living close to national parks and conservancies. In an effort to contain the spread of diseases from wildlife to livestock, Wildlife Capture Africa hosted a 10-day training course at Malilangwe in Chiredzi, located in southern Zimbabwe.

The course focused on methods of restraining wildlife using ethical physical and chemical capture techniques for the purposes of tracking and translocating wildlife, treating injured animals and sample collecting for disease surveillance and profiling (the latter mitigating illegal hunting).

Trained veterinarian Elma Sikala of FAO in Zimbabwe was one of those who attended the course. Elma has a passion for wildlife preservation and ensures that rural communities living adjacent to wildlife conservation areas live in harmony with nature for their mutual benefit.

“The main highlights were seeing the large wildlife numbers supported on the 50 000 hectare Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, including the “Big Five” (elephant, lion, black rhinoceros, buffalo and leopard) and many other species. A highly qualified professional group of wildlife veterinarians and managers ran the course, giving in-depth coverage of wildlife field handling procedures, boma-capture methods, practical use of firearms for darting, helicopter darting (yes, everyone gets a turn darting from the chopper!), immobilization of the big five, laboratory, necropsy and animal disease diagnostic techniques,” says Elma.

“I also learnt that big African cats, such as, leopards, are attracted to Calvin Klein’s fragrance Obsession for Men. This perfume has actually been used to lure big cats to a camera trap. The fragrance itself contains a synthetic version of the chemical compound civetone, which occurs naturally in the scent glands of the Asian civet mammal, and which is important for territorial markings. So to our male counterparts, a word of caution, please beware on your next safari!”

FAO Zimbabwe has in the past supported the wildlife sector by providing funds for Global Positioning System (GPS). This helps facilitate the collaring of buffalo in bovine tuberculosis (bTB) research; Communal Wildlife Ranching (CWR) feasibility studies; the production of toolkits for use in human wildlife conflicts and building capacity of wildlife personnel.

“FAO is implementing a project funded by the European Union, and a Technical Cooperation Project to research diseases at the wildlife, human and domestic animal interface and Trans Boundary Diseases (TADs), as well as capacity-building for staff at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management.” says Elma.

Yet due to changing human settlement and land use patterns which increasingly encroach into national parks and protected areas, TADs are on the rise. Wild animals are a reservoir for certain viruses, bacteria and parasites affecting humans and domestic animals. Over 60 percent of emerging zoonotic diseases have their origin in wildlife.

For example, wild buffalo can transmit Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) virus to livestock. The disease has major economic implications, causing production losses and limiting market access to potentially lucrative overseas markets for livestock and beef exports from Zimbabwe. Other diseases threaten the health and livelihoods of neighbouring rural communities and include rabies, brucellosis, bovine Tuberculosis and anthrax.

“As for my final thoughts, animals ought to be treated with respect, without causing unnecessary distress or compromising their welfare, and certainly not for the advancement of personal status. For, as Moss Cass so aptly put it, “We have not inherited this earth from our parents to do with it what we will. We have borrowed it from our children and we must be careful to use it in their interests as well as our own,” concludes Elma.


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