Paintball helping to treat SA's last wild horse herds

2016-04-11 20:30
(Picture: Reinette van Niekerk)

(Picture: Reinette van Niekerk)

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Cape Town – Paintball is normally associated with fun and games, but it's now being employed in an innovative way to help look after some of South Africa’s last wild horse herds near Mbombela.

Around 200 wild horses roam free in the former mining town of Kaapschehoop in Mpumalanga.

Some were said to be tamer than an average riding horse but the herds were not always a pretty sight for tourists flocking to the area.

The animals often fell prey to African horse sickness, usually carried by midges, or biliary from ticks - the equine version of tick bite fever.

But using a paintball gun has offered a new way for animal enthusiasts to at least tackle ticks.

Reinette van Niekerk, known as the local "horse lady", said on Monday that 11 horses had already died from African horse sickness.

"Over Easter weekend, a horse collapsed in front of the pancake restaurant in town," she said.

It had to be put down.

Undiscovered horse carcasses could be lying hidden in the forest plantations.

Van Niekerk, 43, has been tackling the problem of treating the horses, some crawling with ticks, for more than a decade.

With a full-time job at Sappi, she helps out in her spare time and is assisted by staff running horse trails.

"When we dart them for treatment, they often run towards the tar road. It's five minutes before they go down," she said. "In five minutes they do stupid things. They can cover a lot of ground."

She recently heard that game ranchers used paintball guns to 'dip' their animals.

So she bought a paintball gun second-hand. The balls contain the oily dip solution instead of paint.

Costing around R16 each, the balls are aimed at the neck or buttocks of the horses.

Using this method meant horses now only required sedation for other medical treatment, not for dipping.

"The paintball looks like it is going the help us lot. The horses are still a bit scared but it's not as stressful as darting. This will be once-a-month and only if needed."

Their vet, Donnie Engelbrecht, said the paintball was not very painful for the horses.

He darted them as part of treatment for other injuries and noted during this that there were no ticks. "They are all clean of ticks. There is definitely a huge improvement."

He said the solution helped to prevent ticks from sitting on horses, but did not treat any related tick disease.

Engelbrecht said he had thought about the possibility of setting up a vaccination drive to help help horses with other general diseases.

"It is just a suggestion but at least we could save some of the foals if we do them in August or September when the sickness is at its lowest," he told News24.

He said there were potential economic benefits. "Many of the businesses rely on the horses."

Read more on:    mbombela  |  animals

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