If you come across a collared buffalo in the vicinity of Crocodile Bridge or Lower Sabie, chances are it is one of 200 animals that may shed more light on how different parasites on the same animals interact and how this may influence patterns of disease in animals in a natural environment.
According to one of the team leaders for the project, Dr Anna Jolles, from the Oregon State University in the United States of America, the focus will be on how gut worms may affect bovine tuberculosis (BTB) in buffalo populations.
The study will also track the other main endemic diseases of buffalo – foot-and-mouth disease, rift valley fever and brucellosis – putting the team’s findings in context with the full complement of parasites affecting the buffalo.
The large scale field experiment will be conducted over the next five years in the Kruger National Park (KNP). During the first two years, 200 buffalo will be collared and monitored and another 200 in the following two years.
All animals will be marked individually and fitted with a radio-collar to facilitate recapturing every six months. Half of the group will be treated against worm infection, while the other half will act as a control group. Only cows older than two years have been included in the study. During every capture, blood and dung will be taken to determine the BTB and worm infection status.
During the second phase of the study, only animals older than 10 years will be monitored. With this study, Anna and collaborator Vanessa Ezenwa of the University of Montana also aim to provide continuity with a previous buffalo-BTB study, led by Paul Cross from the University of Berkeley in the USA. Both studies will provide a combined data set stretching over 10 to 12 years.
"Long-term monitoring efforts are essential ti understanding the dynamics of chronic diseases such as TB, particularly in the context of variable and changing climatic conditions, which likely affect host health status and population dynamics in complex ways.
However, long-term studies are hard to funds, because funding agencies typically focus on intensive short-term (three to five years) studies. Combining the UC Berkely study and this project thus presents a rare opportunity to begin to understand the longer-term dynamics of this important wildlife disease."
Jolles' project is funded for five years through a grant from the National Science Foundation of the US.