The mass calving of nearly two million wildebeests in the Northern National Parks and surrounding areas, is said to breed a deadly virus which infects and actually kills domesticated animals within a short time.

“The ‘Malignant Catarrhal Fever Virus’ are produced by the female wildebeests when they give birth and the mucous liquids trickling from their wombs in the process, contain the MCF Herpes Virus which affect mostly cattle, causing blindness to the animals and eventually killing them,” stated Dr Julius Keyyu the Director of Research at the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute in Arusha.

Wildebeests form the legendary annual migration of large mammals covering Ngorongoro, Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara between the months of January and March, they gather on the southern parts of the steppe to breed.

The breeding areas coincidentally border populated villages of Simanjiro, Ngorongoro and Meatu in Manyara, Arusha and Simiyu regions whose residents are mostly nomadic pastoralists from Maasai and Sukuma communities and keep large herds of cattle.

A calf just delivered in the wild.

Tourists capturing with their cameras wildebeest migration in the Serengeti.

“The wildebeests just produce the virus but are not infected by them, but once the calving tissues flow onto the grazing grass and get consumed by domestic animals, especially cattle, these get infected,” explained Dr Felix Lankester a researcher from the ‘Global School of Animal Health.’

For the last three years, the Arusha-based TAWIRI in association with the University of Glasgow and University of Nottingham as well as the Moredun research Institute in the United Kingdom, have been researching into the MCF virus.

The MCF Herpes, deadly as they are do not have a cure nor is there a vaccine and the researchers now want to develop a locally produced vaccine to combat the infections.

Dr Mosses Ole Nasselle from the Simanjiro Conservation Development Trust pointed out that, the MCF is not a new thing because similar infections used to be detected on domestic cattle even in the past but there used to be ‘escape hatches’ then.

“The population was not high, so whenever the wildebeests come to calve nearby, people would migrate with their livestock elsewhere because there was still ample land, but now there is nowhere to go because the land has been taken by farmers, investors and even for residential purpose,” said Dr Nasselle.

As the result, the cattle are forced to share grazing grounds with wildebeests even during the latter’s breeding time thus being compelled to eat the infected grass and eventually dying from the virus.

 

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