Bacillus anthracis is the causal agent of anthrax which primarily affects ungulates, occasionally carnivores and less frequently humans. The endospores of this soil-borne bacterium are highly resistant to extreme conditions, and under ideal conditions, anthrax spores can survive for many years in the soil. The bacterium is generally found in soil at sites where infected animals have died. When these spores are exposed, they have the potential to be ingested by a mammalian species which could lead to an anthrax outbreak. Anthrax is almost never transmitted directly from host to host, but is rather ingested by herbivores while drinking, grazing or browsing in a contaminated environment, with the exception of scavengers and carnivores consuming infected prey. Anthrax is known to be endemic in the northern part of Kruger National Park (KNP) in South Africa (SA), with occasional epidemics spreading southward into the non-endemic areas. The aim of this study is to identify and map areas that are ecologically suitable for the harbouring of B. anthracis spores within the KNP. Anthrax surveillance data and selected environmental variables were used as inputs to the maximum entropy (Maxent) species distribution modelling method. Five-hundred and ninety-seven anthrax occurrence records, dating from the year 1988 to 2011, were extracted from the Skukuza State Veterinary Office’s database. A total of 40 environmental variables were used and their relative contribution to predicting suitability for anthrax occurrence was evaluated using Maxent software (version 3.3.3k). Variables showing the highest gain were then used for subsequent, refined model iterations until the final model parameters were established. The environmental variables that contributed the most to the occurrence of anthrax were soil type, normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), land type and precipitation. A map was created using a geographic information system (GIS) that illustrates the sites where anthrax spores are most likely to occur throughout the Park. This included the known endemic Pafuri region as well as the low lying soils along the Shingwedzi-Phugwane-Bubube rivers and the Letaba-Olifants river drainage area. The outputs of this study could guide future targeted surveillance efforts to focus on areas predicted to be highly suitable for anthrax, especially since the KNP uses passive surveillance to detect anthrax outbreaks. Knowing where to look can improve sampling efficiency and lead to increased understanding of the ecology of anthrax within the KNP.
Dissertation (MMedVet)--University of Pretoria, 2013.