The rabies strain that killed thousands of Namibian kudu in 2001 is still being independently sustained by this kudu population. This was according to Dr Rainer Hassel, technical advisor to the Kudu Rabies Project.
Thousands of kudu have died since the outbreak of the epidemic in Namibia in 2001, the second since the 1970s.
“The rabies virus underwent fine genetic changes and these are maintained in our kudu population,” he said at the recent Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) congress in Windhoek.
However, an epidemiological survey of the disease, coupled with research into the development of an effective form of oral vaccination, have yielded positive results, according to Hassel.
The research concluded that a modified oral vaccination, absorbed in the oral mucus could be used effectively in the fight against the disease. He said that bait containing the vaccine had been hung in trees and successfully tested among captive as well as free-range kudus.
“The animals didn’t hesitate to take the bait. We repeatedly conducted tests under different conditions. Our main aim now is to develop the vaccine, and [introduce it to the kudu],” he said.
The first epidemic started in 1977 and lasted nine years before being brought under control. In 2001, the disease re-emerged, mainly in the
central and northern regions of Namibia. Developing an effective form of oral vaccination was important to protect the species, Hassel said.
The next step was to develop a bait in which the vaccine blister could be concealed, requiring the animal to chew it. This resulted in the vaccine being absorbed into its system, he said.