The Trust invites wildlife veterinarians and wildlife ecologists to submit disease surveillance or research project proposals. These proposals will be considered by the Trust Steering Committee, who will consult with Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (PWMA) and the State Wildlife Veterinary Unit (WVU). If the outcome of the research is deemed important enough to influence management decisions in the area, the Trust will aim to raise funds on behalf of the researchers, or provide the necessary equipment and facilities to complete the project.
A project is more likely to be approved if it focuses on a Trans Frontier Conservation Area (TFCA). TFCAs, or 'peace parks', are large tracts of land designated for conservation that span international borders. Zimbabwe is involved in 6 of these initiatives: Great Limpopo TFCA; Greater Mapungubwe (formerly Limpopo-Shashe) TFCA; Kavango-Zambezi TFCA; Mana-Lower Zambezi TFCA; Chimanimani TFCA and ZiMoZa TFCA.
No FMD in LSTFCA cattle
In 2008, AWARE secured funding from the SADC FMD Program and performed a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) survey in 5% of the cattle in the proposed Limpopo-Shashe Trans-Frontier Conservation Area (LS-TFCA). The project was performed on behalf of the Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services and in conjunction with vet department field staff in the area. The LS-TFCA is in the South-West corner of Zimbabwe where borders are shared with both South Africa and Botswana. The Maramani communal land is directly adjacent to the junction of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers, where all 3 countries meet, and is therefore destined to become part of the TFCA. It is thus important to know the disease status of cattle within this area because it has major implications for the future direction of the LS-TFCA. Results show that this population has not been exposed to FMD recently.
TB in lions in Gonarezhou?
Lions are widespread throughout sub-saharan Africa. Despite their huge geographical range, their numbers have been decreasing at an alarming rate. In the early 1900’s it was estimated that the total lion population was around 200 000, in a recent study done in 2002-2004, it was estimated that the total population had decreased to around 18000-47000 individuals. This incredible drop in numbers is thought to be due to a lack of available habitat with an increasing human population as well as persecution and disease. In Gonarezhou National Park, it was estimated in a recent spoor study (2009) that there were only 23 lion left in the entire park spanning some 5000km2. This population is not considered to be viable, so where have all the lions gone? In a preliminary study done by the AWARE team in October 2010, no lions were seen over a period of a week despite setting up baiting stations and using call-up equipment. The spoor of a single lion was seen and tracked and the call of a lion was heard one night but there were no sightings of the elusive cat. Diseases such as Canine Distemper and Bovine Tuberculosis (BTB) are transmitted easily to lions and until we are certain of what is causing the dearth of these predators in the area, we cannot rule out disease causing serious problems in the park.
BTB, a disease exotic to the African continent, and eradicated from Zimbabwe (except for sporadic cases) by the early 1980s, is one of the diseases that poses a serious risk for Zimbabwean wildlife, domestic animals and people. The disease occurs in buffalo herds in Kruger National Park (KNP), and over the last decade has made its way progressively northwards towards the Zimbabwean border. Its detection in buffalo in southern Gonarezhou in February 2009 spells disaster, although 49 buffalo tested in the north of the Park in 2010 were free from the disease. Millions of Rands have been spent trying to monitor and control the disease with little effect in South Africa. Although buffalo can be asymptomatic, lions feasting on buffalo can develop alimentary tuberculosis which results in a chronic wasting disease as the animals cannot absorb nutrients from their food. There is no effective vaccine and no cure. In 2011 we intend to continue our study in Gonarezhou on the lion population there to ascertain whether it is disease, a lack of sufficient prey base and water, interspecific competition from hyaenas or persecution from illegal poaching that has caused such a dramatic drop in the population of lions in the area. All lions that are found will be tested for BTB immediately to determine if this crippling disease has entered the lion populations in Gonarezhou.