By Chrispin Inambao and Reagan Malumo WINDHOEK/KATIMA MULILO A mysterious lung disease that has infected and decimated large herds of cattle in Sesheke district in Zambia poses an imminent threat to the livestock industry in Caprivi. The disease is said to have baffled experts who are trying to pinpoint the virus that infects the lungs, from where it leaves the diseased lungs in yellowish legions. Infected herds also suffer significant weight loss. Subsistence farmers who are said to have suffered significant stock losses are mainly in areas such as Sikaunzwe, Simalaha, Kasaya, Mambova and Kazungula, sharing the Zambezi River as a natural boundary with settlements along the river. Though the unknown livestock disease is said to have broken out a few months ago since the first cases were initially detected, it is believed to have reached a crescendo in November, decimating large herds of livestock. Villagers here depend mostly on these animals for a livelihood as they are their source of beef and dairy products. They also use them for ploughing. Sources say in the absence of a vaccine to contain the outbreak, officials are rounding up and herding infected cattle towards makeshift slaughterhouses, from where the carcasses are set on fire in an operation akin to one that took place in Botswana where there was a similar outbreak. The disease particularly poses a threat to Namibian livestock farmers along the Zambezi River within the floodplain areas of the far eastern parts of Caprivi such as Ikaba, Muzii and Impalila Island, among other villages. It also comes at a time when there has been a deadly infection targeting fish in the Zambezi whose fish is traditionally the main source of cheap protein for river communities resident in the floodplains of both countries. And some peasants in their despondence to salvage their highly-prized earthly possessions are said to be driving their herds to relatives across the Zambezi into villages for shelter away from the slaughter underway. Though New Era was unable to get official confirmation from the Zambian High Commission in Windhoek where a senior official said he was unaware of the incident, villagers in touch with the happenings in Zambia confirmed the outbreak saying the mystery disease has exacted a heavy toll on livestock. A village headman from Itomba area in Eastern Caprivi, who was approached by New Era a day after his visit to Zambia, confirmed the disease has wiped out whole herds of cattle in Zambia and that the Zambian government is also busy transporting herds of cattle away from the affected areas using trucks. He said he did not know where the cattle were being driven to and as such he could not tell whether this was done for quarantine purposes or for the mass slaughter of the infected livestock. The headman also said the disease could spread to Namibia, a situation which he believes might be detrimental to livestock farming in Caprivi. He said he was in the process of relocating his cattle far away from the border area with Zambia to prevent them from being infected. State veterinarian at Katima Mulilo Dr Frank Chitate who is currently attending a joint SADC veterinarian meeting in Livingstone, Zambia, confirmed last week that he was aware that there has always been outbreaks of lung disease in Zambia during the previous years though he had not yet been informed by his Zambian counterparts about the latest outbreak. Other efforts to seek clarity proved futile because most of the people appear to have left for the annual Christmas break and they are simply unreachable. If reports about the present outbreak are confirmed officially, this could have dire financial implications on livestock sales from Caprivi and farmers could find themselves in a very awkward financial position when schools re-open in January as they in most cases depend on livestock sales for school fees.
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