Ngamiland District Wildlife Officer, Timothy Blackbeard says his department is closely monitoring the anthrax outbreak that recently spread into the region from Namibia
Botswana wildlife officials recently raised the alarm after spotting dead hippos floating down the Okavango River from Namibia. Namibian authorities confirmed that the deadly disease had caused over 100 deaths. Blackbeard said in an interview at Mohembo Ferry Post on the Botswana side (where the hippos were seen), that officials have been collecting the dead hippos and destroying them.
“So far, we have recovered three carcasses along the river from Namibia, while the water and crocodiles have destroyed others. At least nine hippos floated down this way. We are destroying the carcasses and burying them,” he said.
Asked what could have caused the anthrax outbreak in the region, Blackbeard said it was probably part of the normal natural cycle of diseases that break out when large animals migrate.
“With any congregation of large animals in a small confinement, there is the high possibility of disease spreading fast. This is the same when you have a large number of people together,” he said.
Blackbeard said Botswana and Namibia wildlife officials were working together to contain small areas in the flood plain where most of the hippos died.
“We conduct patrols with the Botswana Defence Force stretching over eight to 10 kilometres and we have noticed that all our hippos are healthy, meaning they have not been affected. In Namibia, there are 300 hippos confined in a specific area, which points to danger and probable outbreaks.
In Botswana, we noticed between six to nine hippos on average with individual territorial space of up to 600 metres between them. That is a healthy environment for our animals,” he said.
Blackbeard recalled that in 2014, Botswana lost many elephants to an outbreak caused by tight confinement of large numbers. A press release from the Ministry of Health and Wellness on Thursday confirmed that anthrax caused the deaths and warned that any contact with the carcasses carries the risk of infection.
Photo by Gary Ashworth