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Tanzania’s Maasai tribe devises techniques to beat zoonotic infections

On eve of World Zoonoses Day, Anadolu Agency finds ways and means used by Maasai pastoralists to prevent transmission of viruses from wild animals to livestock

Kizito Makoye   | 05.07.2022
Tanzania’s Maasai tribe devises techniques to beat zoonotic infections file photo

ISENYE, Tanzania 

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to zoonosis – the infections transmitted from animals, Tanzania's Maasai pastoralists have found a way to deter the transmission of diseases from wild animals.

On eve of the World Zoonoses Day, which is being observed on Wednesday, experts believe that transmission of infections from wild animals has affected the livestock population across sub-Sahara Africa and then to humans.

But lately, the Maasai pastoralists, known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle succeeded to keep the infections away by keeping their livestock away from the grazing route of migratory wild animals.

“The pastoralists have first-hand knowledge of wildlife transmitted diseases since wild animals often mix freely with cattle whilst grazing,” said Mary Nyalu, a senior veterinary epidemiologist based in Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro region.

Maasai people move cattle to less productive grazing areas to avoid wildebeest during calving season when forage quality is critical.

Experts say the migration of over a million wild animals across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem may be one of the sought-after experiences for nature enthusiasts, but for locals, it means that their livestock will come in close contact with wild animals and thus provides an opportunity for deadly pathogens to transmit infections.

The herders routinely search for grazing routes that are not used by wildlife and mark them.

Nataana, a Maasai pastoralist who started using the techniques two years ago, said it has helped him protect his cattle.

“These safe grazing routes are protecting my cows from diseases because the animals hardly come into contact with sick wildebeests. Humans go into areas that were previously used exclusively by wild animals, that’s why diseases spread to livestock,” he said.

Identifying routes

Another pastoralist, Lepapa is also busy identifying routes that do not cross into wildlife sanctuaries. He keeps marking them with wooden sticks.

“We are trying our very best to ensure that our livestock do not share pasture or watering points with wildlife,” he said.

According to Nyalu, the tactics that Maasai herders have discovered may be effective for some time and described not allowing livestock to interact with wild animals as a preventive measure.

“The disease transmission circle may continue because the wild animal tends to come into proximity with cattle at night for protection from predators,” she told Anadolu Agency.

Nyalu said the annual wildebeest migration through Serengeti and Maasai Mara national reserves poses a serious challenge for livestock herders because the nasal excretion of young wildebeest transmits a deadly virus to cattle in their grazing areas.

Although the deadly virus does not show any symptoms in wildebeest, it can trigger a deadly disease in domestic animals called malignant catarrhal fever in cattle.

She said the wildebeest allow the virus to persist and eliminate species that compete with it for food. The cattle become an easy target for predators during the wildebeest calving and migration season.

Maasai pastoralists who have for many years coexisted with wildlife usually, now remove their herds from pastures as soon as the wild beast and other animals start migrating.

“When the breeding circle for wildebeest starts, we usually take away our livestock to avoid any contact with them and thus prevent infections,” said Ngiloriti Lepapa, a pastoralist from Isenye village perched adjacent to Serengeti National Park.

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