Unique Kudu Rabies Project gets a boost of N$109 000

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Windoek

The impementation of the unique Namibian Rabies in Kudu Project got anther injection last week when the Conservacy Agencies of Namibia (CANAM) handed over cheques of N$109 000.

Agra ProVision and the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) signed an agreement in March for the implementation of an epidemiology survey of Rabies in Kudu and the development of an oral anti-Rabies vaccine for Kudu in Namibia. The project will be implemented for a period of 13 months, from  March 1, 2015 to April 30, 2016. Namibia has a wide range of wildlife resources attracting thousands of tourists worldwide annually. Kudus are one of Namibia’s most well-known and popular antelope species but also a species under constant threat from rabies. Traditionally, carnivores were the most common vectors for this disease, but since the late 1970s, 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.

The First National Bank of Nmaibia  (FNB-N) opened the score board with a donation of N$500 000 to the NAU for the first phase of the Kudu-Rabies project earlier this year. The rate of infection of rabies in kudus remains unacceptably high in Namibia and this is worrisome to many private and public stakeholders. An urgent and effective control measure must be found and applied successfully to rescue this beautiful animal from extinction in Namibia.

Independent Technical Advisor for Animal Health, Dr Rainer Hassel, explained that the overall aim of the project is the reduction of losses caused by rabies in kudus through the development of an effective oral vaccine and the collection of serological and epidemiological data to improve understanding of the disease. The intended impact is to ensure that the kudu remains available as an economic and aesthetic asset, and to protect the biodiversity of wildlife in Namibia. The intended beneficiaries are the tourism  and  hunting industries, including all people employed in these industries, and the government. Therefore, the planned action has a strong, common goal, he added.

Last week it was announced that 45 kudus wil be used in the first phase and fed experimental vacine hidden in camelthorn pods on the farm of Peter Klausen who has made his omas and other facilities available for the experiment. Thirty kudus have already been donated to the project. The vaccine will be offered at certain peak times such as in the evenings at water points and where mineral licks are supplemented, according to Hassel.

Should the oral vaccination prove to be successful, a second phase will have to be implemented to develop a suitable vaccine containing bait that can be used to vaccinate free-ranging kudu and to make this vaccine available to farmers. The oral vaccination should form part of a structured programme to control the disease. Kudus will be infected experimentally on a farm outside Windhoek to prove the possibility of horisontal transmission of rabies among kudus. The animals will be observed to understand the nature of any direct contact and to see if any of the susceptible kudus develop rabies or produce antibodies.

From 1977 to 1986 it is estimated that between 30 000 to 50 000 kudus (20% to 40% of the total polutation) died from rabies. Studies further revealed that rabies in kudus occur in cycles in areas with dense kudus population,  starting in central Namibia then spreading northwards to all the major habitats of kudus, including the Etosha National Park. Moreover, between 2001 – 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 dog), affecting many lives in the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs) of the country.

Dr Hassel, project leader, says: “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 of Kudu in Namibia.” The budget for the first phase is N$ 2.6 million which has already been secured via various sponsors.

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