Date of this Version
Tuberculosis, caused by Mycobacterium bovis, was first diagnosed in African buffalo in South Africa’s Kruger National Park in 1990. Over the past 15 years the disease has spread northwards leaving only the most northern buffalo herds unaffected. Evidence suggests that 10 other small and large mammalian species, including large predators, are spillover hosts. Wildlife tuberculosis has also been diagnosed in several adjacent private game reserves and in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, the third largest game reserve in South Africa.
The tuberculosis epidemic has a number of implications, for which the full effect of some might only be seen in the long-term. Potential negative long-term effects on the population dynamics of certain social animal species and the direct threat for the survival of endangered species pose particular problems for wildlife conservationists. On the other hand, the risk of spillover infection to neighboring communal cattle raises concerns about human health at the wildlife–livestock–human interface, not only along the western boundary of Kruger National Park, but also with regards to the joint development of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. From an economic point of view, wildlife tuberculosis has resulted in national and international trade restrictions for affected species. The lack of diagnostic tools for most species and the absence of an effective vaccine make it currently impossible to contain and control this disease within an infected free-ranging ecosystem. Veterinary researchers and policy-makers have recognized the need to intensify research on this disease and the need to develop tools for control, initially targeting buffalo and lion.