Bacteria also killing rhinos

2014-04-25 00:00

JOHN Hume, South Africa’s largest rhino farmer, has suffered serious financial setbacks in the past two months when a bacterial outbreak killed 35 of his rhinos with 1 000 still at risk.

Hume’s spokesperson Terry Bengis said all the animals on the farm Eland­s­laagte near Klerksdorp are being vaccinated against the bacterium Clostridium novyi , commonly known as Black disease.

Spokesperson for the North West department of economic development, environment and conservation, Dumisa Seshabela, said a warning about the outbreak of Black disease had been sent to all game farmers in the province.

Bengis said there were between 20 and 25 variants of the bacterium. Scientists, including veterinarians at Onderstepoort, have already started isolating the Elandslaagte bacterium to develop a vaccine. “We view this as pioneering work,” Bengis said.

The carcasses of all the dead rhinos were burnt earlier this week to prevent the disease from spreading to other crashes of rhinos on the farm.

Ecologists said the bacteria would have emerged with new grasses after recent heavy rains in the North West.

Clostridium novyi can live without air or free oxygen in soil or faeces and spreads a wide variety of diseases in humans and animals. The ecologists say the close proximity and high numbers of rhinos on the farm will have contributed to the outbreak. Some said Hume was exceeding the carrying capacity of his farm.

Bengis said the diseased rhinos had mucus running from their noses and became unsteady on their feet after four days, after which they quickly died.

Hume said his remaining rhinos will be vaccinated as soon as a vaccine has been developed.

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