The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a large wild bovid which until recently ranged across
all but the driest parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and their local range being limited to about
20 km from surface water. They are of high ecological value due to their important role as
bulk feeders in the grazing hierarchy. They also have high economic value, because they are
one of the sought after ‘Big Five’ in the eco-tourism industry. In Africa, buffaloes have been
recognised for some time as an important role player in the maintenance and transmission of a
variety of economically important livestock diseases at the wildlife and/or livestock interface.
These include African strains of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), Corridor disease (theileriosis),
bovine tuberculosis and bovine brucellosis. For a number of other diseases of veterinary
importance, African buffaloes may also serve as amplifier or incidental host, whereby infection
with the causative pathogens may cause severe clinical signs such as death or abortion as in
the case of anthrax and Rift Valley fever, or remain mild or subclinical for example heartwater.
The long term health implications of most of those infections on the buffalo at a population
level is usually limited, and they do not pose a threat on the population’s survival. Because of
their ability to harbour and transmit important diseases to livestock, their sustainable future
in ecotourism, trade and transfrontier conservation projects become complex and costly and
reliable diagnostic tools are required to monitor these infections in buffalo populations.
Proceedings of the
Conference of the Southern
African Centre for Infectious
Disease Surveillance ‘One
Health’ held at the National
Institute for Communicable
Diseases, Johannesburg, July