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Who is going to hold the kudu’s head steady?

Veterinarian Dr Rainer Hassel outlining the objectives of the proposed project to develop an oral vaccine for kudus against rabies (Photograph by Hilma Hashange)

Veterinarian Dr Rainer Hassel outlining the objectives of the proposed project to develop an oral vaccine for kudus against rabies (Photograph by Hilma Hashange)

One of the most majestic of antelopes, the nimble kudu, has been decimated often over the past 30 years, by outbreaks of rabies. Kudus are particularly susceptible to rabies infection, manifesting in a so-called mad kudu, foaming at the mouth, often very aggressive and witnessed by kudu carcasses hanging in fences, as the weakened animal failed to clear the fence when jumping over it.
An estimated N$2 million is needed to implement a partnership project to investigate the possibility of developing an oral vaccine to help stop the spread of rabies in the kudu population.
The project proposal requires an epidemiological survey of rabies in kudu and the subsequent development and evaluation of a practical method of oral anti-rabies vaccination of animals.
This project is a partneship between the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the Directorate of Veterinay Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, the Namibia Agricultural Union, Agra Professional Services, the University of Pretoria and IDT Biologika GmbH in Germany. The project was finalised this week.
According to Dr Libertina Amathila, patron of the project, the first confirmed case of rabies in a kudu was reported in 1977 and lasted for a decade during which a large number of kudus were affected through horizontal transmission of rabies.
“This phenomena needs to be urgently investigated in order for us to understand and explore possible control measures to produce knowledge that can be applied outside a research setting.Unfortunately when it comes to rabies research, it is always something that gets little attention in terms of support funding,” said Dr. Amathila, who called for all stakeholders to avail funds to the project.
“I implore our researchers to ensure that their work is published and to guarantee that their research is translated as soon as possible into practice,” said Dr Amathila, adding that the lack of publication and access to research results is a problem that is a big barrier plaguing progress in the country’s health system.
She said trophy hunting of kudu is valuable to Namibia, with an estimated number of 7000 hunters per annum.” If Namibia should stand to loose significant numbers of our kudu population, it will result in very significant economic losses to the farming and gaming industries in the country,” she said.
Rabies is a notifiable disease in Namibia affecting both humans, domestic animals and wildlife. It is said to be one of the oldest infectious disease known to medical science and originates from jackals. Between 2001 and 2006, 104 humans died from rabies in the country. According to the veterinarian at Agra, Dr Rainer Hassel, most of these cases occured in the northern regions.
“Symptoms of rabies in kudu include loss of fear of humans, hyper salivation or frothing, paralysis, and carcasses found close to water,” said Dr Hassel. He said research results during the first trial of the project show that the rabies isolated from kudus is different to the strains found in canids. This suggest that rabies is maintained independently in the kudu population not requiring a vector.
“ Additionaly, the researchers also noted several mutations unique to isolates of kudu, suggesting that these mutations may be due to adaptation of rabies to a new host,” he explained.
The proposed project contains four stages and according to Dr Hassel,the researhers have already started with the epidemiological survey. Implementation of the project will commence in mid 2014 once funding is made available.The Ministry of Environment and Tourism through the Permannent Secretary has already confirmed that it will contribute to the project.

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