As many as half of the lions in the southern region of the Kruger National Park (KNP) may be infected with bovine tuberculosis (BTB), according to the latest findings by Stellenbosch University’s animal TB research group.
The prevalence of BTB is estimated to be 54 per cent in the southern KNP lion population. “These test results were made possible due to a new molecular technique that we have developed for detecting infection,” said Tashnica Sylvester, a doctoral student at the university’s faculty of medicine and health sciences, Lowvelder reported.
“With this test we can now accurately distinguish between TB-infected and -uninfected lions.” Sylvester said. “There are only about 3 000 wild lions roaming freely in South African parks. I wanted to contribute to finding out more on a disease which seems to be threatening them as a species,” Sylvester said.
BTB is a slow-progressing disease. The estimated time from infection to death is between two and five years.
“The majority of lions appear healthy. Lions with advanced BTB may show symptoms like swollen joints, slow-healing wounds, poor coat condition, weight loss, coughing and have difficulty breathing,” explained Sylvester.
She was part of the research group that developed a test to diagnose BTB in lions, using a single blood sample. Previously a lion had to be captured twice in three days to perform a TB skin test, but with the new method a lion will only have to be captured once.
“Around 40 per cent of the buffaloes tested in the southern part of the KNP were positive for BTB. Buffaloes are one of the top prey species for lions. Since buffaloes with BTB may be weaker and lag behind the herd, they may be more susceptible to predation,” Sylvester said.
Sylvester explained that there are different test and cull programmes throughout the country where the buffalo testing positive for BTB are culled in an attempt to stop infection of other buffaloes.
“The problem is that buffaloes are not the only prey species that become infected. Kudus and warthogs have also tested positive for BTB,” she said.
“Increased awareness of TB in wildlife is the first step in addressing the issues associated with this disease,” Sylvester said. “Since BTB affects a wide diversity of species it is crucial to understanding the origin, prevalence and risk factors associated with transmission.”
– Caxton News Service