Wildlife on the move : a hidden tuberculosis threat to conservation areas and game farms through introduction of untested animals

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 3
  • SDG 2
  • Abstract:

    In South Africa, African buffaloes (Syncerus caffer) are one of the wildlife maintenance hosts for bovine tuberculosis (BTB) and play a key role in the spread of the disease to other wildlife species and potentially back to cattle. We report a trace-back investigation following the diagnosis of BTB in a previously BTB-free provincial game reserve, founded in the early 1990s in the North West Province of South Africa (SA). Using the intradermal tuberculin and interferon gamma tests, we detected Mycobacterium bovis infection in captured African buffaloes intended for sale. Detection of M. bovis was confirmed by culture and PCR. Molecular typing of M. bovis isolates from three African buffaloes revealed spoligotype SB0140 and a variable number of tandem repeat genotypes which had been previously isolated from wildlife in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of SA. Diagnosis of BTB in a previously uninfected buffalo population provides evidence that the disease can be introduced into an ecosystem through the translocation of untested plains game species. We further illustrate how BTB can remain unnoticed for considerable periods of time in free-ranging wildlife populations and emphasize the need for validated diagnostic tests for application in suitable and practical monitoring programs. This is especially important for species with maintenance host potential and those in high demand at game auctions.