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Large funds for rabies research in kudu

Dagmar Honsbein (second from left) was joined last week by clinical expert Dr Rainer Hassel (left), Agricultural Union Executive Manager, Sakkie Coetzee (second from right) and the NAU’s Manager for Commodities, Harald Marggraaf (right) to sign the landmark agreement on funding to get behind the nuts and bolts of the devastation caused by rabies in the kudu population.

More than two and a half million Namibia Dollar have been raised by Agra Provision for an extensive survey and intensive research to determine the origin and the development of the rabies pathogen prevalent in the local Kudu population.

This disease has decimated kudus in certain areas with outbreak occurring sporadically in all districts. An agreement was signed last week between Agra Provision and the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) for the implementation and execution of the research project. The budget of implementing the project is N$2,600,000.
The envisaged outcome of this project is to develop an oral vaccine against rabies. The project will run over a period of 13 months up to the end of April next year having started at the beginning of this month.
Agra Provision said in a statement, Namibia has a wide range of wildlife resources attracting thousands of tourists annually. Kudus are one of Namibia’s best-known and popular antelopes but also a species under constant threat from rabies.
“Traditionally, carnivores were the most common vectors for this disease, but since the late 1970’s, following a devastating rabies outbreak in the kudu population, indications are there to suspect that a species specific strain is now being maintained in nature by the Namibian kudu population. This serious disease not only continues to pose a threat to the kudu population, but also to our wildlife in general. It is against this background that this project seeks to find an antidote for the rabies virus found in kudus in Namibia.”
From 1977 to 1986 it is estimated that between 30,000 to 50,000 kudus (20% to 40% of the total population) died from rabies, according to studies done by Dr Hassel and his colleague, Dr Schneider. Further studies revealed that rabies in kudu occurs in cycles in areas with dense kudu population, starting in central Namibia then spreading northwards to all the major habitats of kudu, including the Etosha National Park. Moreover, from 2001 to 2006, it is estimated that 104 humans died of rabies in Namibia. The main source of this infection however was the domestic dog, often feral dogs, affecting many lives in the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs).
Dr Rainer Hassel, Agra’s Technical Advisor for Animal Health and Project Leader said “the main objective of the project is to obtain more information about the epidemiology of rabies in kudu. This will be achieved by means of questionnaires, a process that started some time ago. Furthermore, the project aims to obtain possible evidence of the existence of natural immunity.” Shedding more details on the project output, Dr Hassel said; “the project will develop a method of oral vaccination for kudus.”

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