A mysterious disease killing cattle in Mhondoro

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WHOLE herds of cattle are dying in the Mhondoro-Ngezi area.
The cattle are said to display accumulated phlegm foaming at the nostrils and saliva frothing at the mouth, followed by death within eight to 10 days. This calamity has confounded villagers and livestock farmers alike.
The areas of concern, where this sudden and strange contagion is said to be haunting the cattle include Kadhani, Karuru, Gora, Mubaira, St Michael’s — Mandedza, Marigura, Mukaku and Manyami.
The alarmed villagers have complained to this writer about the serious lack of veterinary supplies in the region and the sparse location of cattle dips that range between 20-25km apart.
The hides of the cattle are said to appear to be scabbed with lesions and raw pink patches of hairless skin. According to the villagers, the calves are so far unscathed; the disease seeming to affect the more mature cattle.
A visit to Mhondoro Centre, where I conducted some interviews, confirmed that many villages have been forced to slaughter their cattle and have reported that the liver of the carcass is blotched on one side and abnormally inflamed.
Some livestock farmers and villagers have gone to the extent of slaughtering cattle they suspect to be infected and removing the infected liver in order to sell the carcass.
Within a radius of 70km, from the 52km peg turnoff on the Mhondoro Road, to the interior, over 147 cattle have already been reported dead of this mysterious disease. This is a huge loss, by any stretch of the imagination.
Some called it a curse reminiscent of the unknown scourges that plagued southern-central Africa not long after the arrival of the colonists and culminated in the First Chimurenga in 1896/97.
Some prevalent diseases at that time included tick infections, trypanosomiasis, myiasis (screw worm that resulted from tick bites causing damage to hides), quarter evil (from which 3 142 cattle died), which, together with East Coast fever, killed close to 10 000 indigenous cattle in the west, east and central areas of Zimbabwe.
Together with rinderpest, rabies, redwater fever, lung sickness and other murrains that proliferated and remained rampant during this period were worm parasite, bottleneck jaw, liver fluke (fasciola gigantic), ephemeral fever, conical fluke, mange, (paramphistonium cervi), quarter evil (blackleg), veld sickness, Rift Valley fever, paramphistomiasis, anthrax (basillus anthracis), and ‘umkuzaan’ (dichapetalum cymasum) that was brought in by Mzilikazi through rustled cattle and now endemic to north and northwest Matabeleland; foot and mouth disease transmitted by contact with other infected animals or by the shared use of drinking and grazing areas, notable from the buffalo; as well as bovine rhinotracheitis and vibriosis — both cattle venereal diseases common with high concentrations and movement of cattle.
These lethal epizootic diseases forced Cecil John Rhodes and the British South Africa Company to introduce stringent measures in the early 1900s to control their spread and hoped-for eradication.
The measures totally prohibited the movement of cattle and enforced the confiscation and destruction of all cattle, including indigenous cattle, found straying.
The measures proved unpopular, since the slaughter of beasts was ritually sanctioned, and further accelerated the impoverishment of African communities, thereby further deteriorating relations between the indigenous people and white settlers. This was compounded by the increasing tax burden and enforced limitations of grazing areas for indigenous cattle.
The colonies of Transvaal, Orange Free State and the Cape Colony in southern Africa had already been susceptible to a number of cattle diseases since the second half of the 19th Century. Lung sickness, in 1855, was followed by redwater in 1870-1871, whose similarities with East Coast fever caused confusion and uncertainty in southern Africa when East Coast fever reappeared at the beginning of the 20th Century, that continued to ravage the region well beyond the 1940s.
The third and most devastating cattle disease was rinderpest. An “… acute, febrile, highly contagious and fatal disease for all cloven-hoofed ruminants…,” rinderpest broke out in northern Natal in July 1897 and, by early 1898, the disease was spreading rapidly throughout Natal and Zululand where 98 percent of the cattle died from the rinderpest virus.
The last rinderpest outbreak in the territory under British colonial white minority rule occurred in September 1898, on Salisbury Commonage, which is now Mbare.
The disease penetrated the Egyptian Lower Nile Valley from Asia and spread as far south as Khartoum during the 1884-1885 British campaigns in the Sudan.
The expansion of the Sahara Desert eastward effectively barred the virus from spreading further southwards into the vast Savannah grasslands of southern Africa.
In 1889, as part of the European subjugation and division of Africa that followed the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885, and the subsequent scramble for Africa, the Italian army invaded Eritrea, bringing with them rinderpest-infected cattle from India. The catastrophic consequences resulted in the greatest famine in recorded Ethiopian history.
For several years, the virus spread progressively southwards through Central Africa, annihilating vast herds of indigenous cattle and wild game. Thousands of people died or were on the verge of starvation. By the end of 1890, rinderpest had spread southwest to Lake Tanganyika; devastating Masaai cattle herds in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya.
The disease devastated vast areas in Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Up to 90% of the indigenous cattle in parts of central, eastern and southern Africa were eradicated.
Having researched, I found four diseases that exhibit similar symptoms as those reported in Mhondoro-Ngezi area that cause sudden death in cattle, namely acute bovine liver disease (ABLD), faciloscis, Therelia and liver fluke.
The three main possible sources of these diseases are contaminated water, common at this time of year, unclean cattle pens, toxic paddocks and, possibly, seeding lantana camara, a hardy, noxious plant which causes poisoning in cattle and which should be eliminated by all means when found near paddocks, kraals or homesteads.
Most indigenous Zimbabwean cattle breeds are particularly well-adapted to the local warm climatic conditions and have a high tolerance to heat and a natural resistance to local diseases, including tick-born ailments and worm infestations.
This makes the current unknown infestation in Mhondoro, a particularly perplexing situation that requires urgent investigation and attention if we are to safeguard the national herd that Government is working tirelessly to build up and sustain. More rural communal cattle dips are required.
The re-introduction of well-equipped and vigilant, mobile rural- cattle extension services officers who go to rural areas to teach, monitor and administer rural cattle herds is paramount to supervise and prevent further cattle losses which are detrimental to Zimbabwe’s cattle herd.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practicing artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher. E-mail: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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