The Department of National Parks and Wildlife observed deaths of 2 Hippos on 24th September, 2016 and reported this matter to the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries in order to undertake diagnostics studies to establish the cause of the mortalities.
A joint team of specialists from the Ministry of Health, Centre for Disease Control, World Health Organization, Department of Veterinary Services, Department of National Parks and Wildlife and University of Zambia travelled to Chikwa Game Management Area to respond to this disease outbreak.
Samples were collected from seven humans out of which three swabs tested positive confirming incidence of anthrax.
From the onset of the outbreak, 18 hippos out of a school of approximately 200 died from suspected Anthrax in one pool called Baghdad. Out of these, 16 hippos were consumed by human beings, thereby making the extent to which the meat has gone very difficult to establish.
By the 4th of October, 2016, 56 people were treated for signs of anthrax while 200 people were given prophylactic treatment after confirming that they had consumed hippo meat from a population of 16000 people living in Chikwa area. Ironically, 150 hippos died while 500 human cases of anthrax were treated in 2011 when this disease broke out in the same Baghdad pond.
This is a recurrence of the 2011 outbreak because no proper disinfection measures on the graves and remains of the dead hippos were taken after the outbreak thereby creating fertile grounds for the spores to thrive in the ground.
The other reason that could have triggered the outbreak of Anthrax in Baghdad pond is the fact that no measures were undertaken to depopulate the hippo school following the 2011 outbreak of the disease.
One Buffalo was equally reported to have died on suspected Anthrax in Chikwa, within 7 kilometres from Baghdad Epic Centre after having drunk water from the same pond but the meat of the said carcass was consumed by the residents of Chikwa area before the team established the cause.
Since Hippos are territorial and live in particulars ponds in hippo schools, the only time that they interact with other hippo schools is at the time of grazing, meaning the possibility of transmission of Anthrax to hippos in other ponds/schools is very minimal save for the other species such as Elephants and Buffalo which have a tendency to move long distances to fetch water.
Measures to restrict movements of other species of wildlife can prove very difficult and sometimes impossible to undertake due to the large numbers of wildlife and the inability to know the timings of these movements against the available staff to prevent such.
The Government through the Department of National Parks and Wildlife has since suspended hunting in Chikwa and Department of National Parks and Wildlife has immediately undertaken to enforce this suspension of hunting and movement of wildlife product out of Chikwa until such a time that the outbreak of Anthrax has been fully combated.
Safari hunting company have been directed to stop providing carcasses of meat which are proceeds of hunting to the local communities in Chikwa in order to ensure that the prospects of spreading the outbreak and its consequences further.
However, hunting of all approved species in other hunting blocks in Zambia shall continue as planned.
Ministry of Tourism and Arts Spokesman Sakabilo Kalembwe said that the Department of National Parks and Wildlife shall depopulate the Baghdad pool to manageable numbers of hippos in order to reduce the chances of future anthrax outbreaks while putting in place other measures effectively manage our hippo populations in the entire Luangwa Ecosystem.