Windhoek-Part of Bwabwata National Park where confirmed anthrax cases have killed nearly 110 hippo and 20 buffalo since the start of October, has been closed to tourists.
“[For the] safety of tourists intending to visit the park, the area in which mortalities are taking place is not open for tourists, but is exclusively for wildlife management. However, as a precaution, we urge tourists not to go close to the affected area by any means,” said the Environment and Tourism Ministry spokesperson, Romeo Muyunda.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry has also issued an alert to the public and farmers in the surrounding areas of Bwabwata to say the anthrax outbreak has been confirmed.
The Agriculture Ministry warns that “anthrax is a very dangerous disease that affects both animals and humans”.
Percy Misika, permanent secretary in the Agriculture Ministry, cautioned that “any animal that dies rapidly and on its own should not be touched, opened or even eaten, but must be reported immediately to the nearest state veterinary office.”
Due to the rapid course of the disease, most animals that are infected with anthrax are found dead and may ooze dark unclotted blood from natural orifices like the mouth, nostrils and anus. An anthrax carcass normally bloats and decomposes rapidly, Misika said.
To prevent the further spread of anthrax in livestock, farmers and nearby communities were urged to vaccinate their animals.
Further, “anthrax carcasses should be disposed off by deep burial or burning without opening them. This limits contamination of the environment by the causal bacteria”, the ministry said.
Humans are also being cautioned to be on the lookout for symptoms of possible anthrax infection.
The symptoms typically occur within seven days of infection and include fever with temperature greater than 36.9 degrees Celsius. The fever may be accompanied by chills or night sweats.
There could also be flu-like symptoms, coughing (usually a non-productive cough), chest discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, sore throat, followed by difficulty swallowing, enlarged lymph nodes, headache, nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal distress, vomiting, or diarrhea.
People must also look out for sores, especially on the face, arms or hands, that start as a raised bump and develop into a painless ulcer with a black area in the centre.
Anyone who suspects that they might have been exposed to or contracted anthrax should visit the nearest clinic for further advice and/or treatment, Misika advised.
The national hippo population is estimated at just over 3,000 while buffalo are estimated at over 7,000.
The hippo population in Bwabwata West, which stretches over 24 kilometres along the Kavango River, has reportedly increased significantly from an estimated 384 animals in 2013 to 539 this year.
Muyunda said they were also aware of concerns regarding the specie’s survival, as these increasingly rare wildlife animals continue to die in large numbers.
“The ministry takes this issue seriously and will be able to respond to such concerns when the assessment is completed. To this end we do not foresee this situation threatening the existence of the affected species,” he said.
The destruction of the carcasses has started and will continue, where and when practical.
Government has also started with to procure protective gear for staff members involved in the operation.