Since September this year, several animals in the Lower Zambezi National Park and Chiawa Game Management Area (up to the Nyamangwe River) have died from a disease called Anthrax. There have been various mortalities recorded — Hippo (100+) Elephant (17) Baboon (2) and Kudu (7). Anthrax is a natural disease that can affect both animals and humans. All warm-blooded animals can catch the disease.
Conservation Lower Zambezi, an organisation that aims to protect the environment of the Lower Zambezi as an asset for the people of Zambia, were quick to respond to the crisis. They have partnered with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) to ensure the loss of wildlife is as minimal as possible. They are also working hard to educate the local community about the disease, and the prevention measures that need to be taken.
Several vets from the Department of Veterinary Services have visited the Lower Zambezi National Park to formulate a response to the outbreak both in regards to wildlife, and also importantly with regards to the local communities. Dr. Ian Parsons has been involved with protecting the Lion population from Anthrax. Lions were severely at risk over the past months but the outbreak has now been totally treated. This fast response has ensured that no Lions have been lost to the disease. At this stage it is likely that the Lions have developed a natural immunity to the disease due to their exposure.
Apart from affecting wildlife, Anthrax can also spread to livestock including goats but not chickens. Fish cannot catch the disease, but they can carry it in their stomachs. If animals catch Anthrax they will die a sudden and unexpected death and may show signs of bleeding from the anus, nose and/or mouth.
Unfortunately, humans can catch Anthrax from infected animals — either from handling the bodies of animals that have died from the disease, or eating infected meat from animals that have died from the disease. Symptoms will start with an itchy bump on the skin or in the mouth/throat which develops into a black sore. This is followed by headaches, muscle ache, fever, vomiting and possibly a swollen face and neck. Anyone with these symptoms is advised to report to the nearest clinic immediately as Anthrax can cause death, unless it is treated by a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics.
Conservation Lower Zambezi has played an important role in responding to this Anthrax crisis and has been instrumental in educating the people in Lower Zambezi about the outbreak. The length of the outbreak can depend on many factors including animal population densities. In this instance, the start of the rains is likely to bring the outbreak to a natural halt.