AN outbreak of a tick-borne disease, theileriosis, in Mashonaland East and Central provinces has claimed hundreds of cattle, leaving villagers distraught.
Theileriosis is a disease caused by a species of theileria, a blood-borne parasite that only affects cattle and is primarily transmitted by ticks that feed on cattle.
A single infected tick can pass the disease to another animal through its saliva when it feeds on it.
Symptoms of the disease include drop in milk production, depression, weakness and difficulty in breathing for the animal with rapid and shallow breaths.
Affected animals also experience an increased heart rate.
Infected cattle eventually die after two or three weeks.
Areas such as Mount Darwin and Bindura have been affected by the outbreak, with the hardest hit being Makumbe, Cheza, Chinamhora, Mahwanga and Shumba ward two and three in Domboshava.
Enos Gombera, a farmer from Tamborinyoka village in Shumba ward three is now left with only 18 out of his 60 herd of cattle after the majority succumbed to the disease.
Fearing that all his cattle might be wiped out by the disease, Gombera was forced to sell the remainder to avoid further losses.
“We informed the Harare veterinary office about the crisis here,” said Shumba ward three councillor Brighton Sanyika. “Upon their arrival they observed that many villagers were not dipping their cattle because their dipping cards were not up to date. Some last sent their cattle for dipping last year,” he added.
Such a situation has created a fertile ground for Theileriosis to thrive.
Dipping cattle is for free and is done once a week throughout the year with the exception of the dry season where villagers are asked to send their livestock to the dip tank twice a week, according to Sanyika.
Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, has since been notified of the outbreak that has shaken many villagers, but nothing has been done to date.
Paddy Zhanda, the deputy minister in the Ministry, said government said the villagers brought the disease on themselves by not dipping their cattle.
“We ensure that dip tanks are available for their cattle, but they choose not to send their livestock for dipping. If they were complaining that dip tanks are not functioning properly, we would swiftly move in to assist,” he said.
“They did not value their livestock and it’s now coming back to haunt them. If it was an anthrax outbreak I would have understood, not a tick borne disease,” he added.
Asked if they were going to leave the situation to spiral out of control, Zhanda remained adamant.
“There is nothing we can do, our hands are tied. We cannot intervene in such instances,” he said.
It would appear that some of the veterinary officers in the affected areas are out of their depths with regard to how to control the outbreak.
There is also a significant shortage of veterinary officers in the country due to government’s job recruitment freeze that has made it difficult for villagers to get professional information regarding their livestock.
Analysts said the control of ticks and tick-borne diseases must receive high priority in Africa with regards to both research and control application because of their widespread distribution in areas of high livestock potential and productivity.
They said it is not proper for government to blame villagers whenever there is an outbreak because some of the dip tanks have actually been condemned because of their poor state.
In some areas, villagers have to fork out significant amounts of money to buy vaccines and treat their animals.
Some of the vaccines, for example burpavaquine and butalex orivermectin go for anything between US$60 and US$70, an amount out of reach of many of the villagers.
“We are now calling upon the Environmental Management Agency to allow us to burn our forests to kill the ticks’ breeding ground, which is the grass that surrounds us,” said one of the villagers.
As the situation goes unchecked, abattoirs are offering low prices for those who want to cut their losses by getting rid of their cattle.
There are cases whereby villagers are ending up accepting as little as US$100 per beast.
On average, a beast cost about US$400 in rural areas.
There are also cases in the affected areas where some butchery operators are selling meat from infected cattle to unsuspecting customers.
While the effects of consuming the meat are not known, experts say it is generally not advisable to do so.