Namibia's flagship trophy game species, the kudu, is under threat from rabies that have already devastated record numbers of the antelope and sources in the industry have voiced concern that the outbreak could impact negatively on the hunting season that is due.
Two veterinarians Dr Otto Zapke and Dr Beate Voights confirmed the outbreak, with Dr Zapke saying probably 'thousands' of kudu died in the Omaruru area where recently no cases of the contagious disease have been brought to his attention.
Dr Zapke said the Okahandja and Windhoek areas are showing more prevalence of rabies, while Dr Voights said there is a tendency among farmers not to report cases of the deadly viral disease that can affect all warm-blooded animals and has various known strains.
With over 5 000 trophy hunters, the hunting industry directly generates N$100 million for the country each year and N$200 million is generated indirectly as secondary revenue.
Namibia Professional Hunting Association (NAPHA) affiliated sources revealed the contagion was initially detected at a farm in the Wilhelmstal area before it spread north via farms at Omaruru, Otjiwarongo and then it spread eastwards and scattered southwards.
'It is a flagship species. People come to Namibia because of kudus,' said one source.
Cases of the communicable disease have been reported at Omitara, from where it spread towards Botswana. Some farms around Windhoek have also reported cases of strange behaviour in this antelope, such as frothing at the mouth and not being afraid of people.
There was one strange case in which this beast had to be shot inside a house and one farmer who requested anonymity cited several cases of rabid kudu. Though the meat from the affected animals can be consumed provided the necessary precautions are taken, one of the beasts shot near Windhoek was destroyed because of the severity of the infection.
One 12 000-hectare farm suffered game losses of 400 beasts over the past two years of the present outbreak, and other farmers are said to have incurred huge losses of the antelope that is preferred by high-spending trophy hunters who like its majestic, spiral horns.
Sources are saying the present outbreak whose magnitude compares to the contagion that affected the game industry over a seven-year wave in Namibia lasting from 1975 to 1982, is being caused by kudu populations that have increased over the past several years.
There is under-reportage of the outbreak because some farmers are afraid of the negative effects that bad publicity could generate in light of the closeness of the hunting season.
New Era was told kudus that have weakened immunity to rabies when compared to dogs and other animals get infected by eating affected vegetation, while the virus could also get into their bodies through lesions in their mouths caused by shrubs and thorns.
If the virus infects kudu with an incubation period varying from 21 to 365 days it tends to hang its head lower but the most important clinical characteristic of the preliminary phase is behavioural change during which the animal appears tame, salivates excessively, loses appetite, and urinates frequently. After this phase sick animals may either become aggressive or show signs of paralysis.
Kudu occurs throughout Namibia except in the Namib Desert.
When contacted, NAPHA's CEO Joern Wiedow referred all inquiries to Ben Beytell, the Director of Parks and Wildlife Management who was out of town and unavailable.
But Maria Kapere, the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism who yesterday consulted the Division of Scientific Services after New Era made inquiries on the matter responded: 'Nobody in my ministry knows about this.'
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