Foot and mouth disease (FMD) has the potential to wipe out game ranches. “The effects will be worse than on a cattle farm, and destroy the ranch financially and from a biodi­versity point of view,” says Dr Peter Oberem, Director of Breeding, Animal Health, and Biosecurity at Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA).

History of FMD in the game industry

According to Dr Oberem, FMD is an endemic and very contagious disease that probably evolved in Africa. “The FMD virus affects all cloven-hooved animals such as antelope, bovines, caprines (goats), ovines (sheep) and pigs (including warthog and wild boar). Over the past 1 000 years plus, it has spread to most of the world with differ­ent serotypes evolving.”

In Southern Africa, the SAT sero­types (SAT1, SAT2 and SAT3) have been associated with African buffalo for many centuries. “This has led to the virus and the buffalo becoming adapted to each other so that the buf­falo carry the virus asymptomatically, so there are no signs of the disease. Most animals get mild symptoms, while the more highly bred breeds of cat­tle, goats and pigs can become very severely affected.”

During the late 1980s and ’90s, the erection of veterinary cordon fences around the Kruger National Park, regular vaccination of cattle exposed to contact with buffalo, and limiting contact between buffalo and cattle in the buffer zone next to Kruger Park, proved to be efficient to control and limit FMD outbreaks to one in 5,5 years in South Africa.

Since 2000, an increasing number of buffalo present in Kruger and crossing its boundaries, in addition to the reduc­tion in vaccination coverage of cattle at the interfaces, increased the risk of transmission threefold, with an increase of one infective event per year.

The African buffalo is a reservoir for foot and mouth disease. (Source: Pixabay)

Danger to the game industry

All the game on ranches have been neg­ative for FMD. “Buffalo on game farms are from either imported (from zoos et cetera) starter stock, or from a project carried out decades ago by Dr Roy Ben­gis of Kruger Park, who bred ‘disease-free’ buffalo,” explains Dr Oberem.

These animals and all game ranch buffalo are free of FMD, tuberculosis, brucellosis, and corridor disease. “This has made them very valuable as they are allowed outside the traditional FMD areas, including the Kruger Park, bordering countries Botswana, Zimba­bwe, and Mozambique, as well as some KwaZulu-Natal parks.

“These are the core of all privately-owned buffalo. Because they are disease-free, they are valuable and could replace animals in some of the parks that become infected with these diseases.”

It is difficult to detect FMB in game species.

Origin of the present outbreak

According to Dr Oberem, it is not officially known where the present outbreak originated. “It may be from Kruger Park or even from Zimbabwe, given the terrible state of the fences between the two countries. It may even be that the FMD outbreak of 2019 was not completely controlled or eradicated from the cattle in Limpopo. It may have been smouldering there and spread so dramatically because of the legal and illegal cattle movement. I tend to think the disease is now wide­spread in cattle in eastern and central Limpopo, and spreading from there.”

Prevention of spreading among game

Preventing the spread of FMB in game animals is the most critical matter. “Game cannot as easily be inspected and there are no control measures except slaughter, without compensa­tion, of all the cloven-hooved animals on a ranch.

“The game ranch that becomes infect­ed will effectively be destroyed both financially and from a biodiversity point of view. Unlike cattle, there is no vac­cine available, so slaughter is the only means available to the state to control the disease on game ranches.”

Scavenging jackals can spread the FMD disease after feeding on a contaminated carcass. (Source: Pixabay)


The strictest biosecurity is essential in protecting game animals on a ranch. The following measures are critical for the survival of the game ranching industry:

  • No animals must be brought in unless they are tested to be nega­tive.
  • Fences must be strengthened to prevent animals from coming in through infected cattle or game farms. This includes the difficulty to prevent warthog and bushpig from entering. Jackal can bring infected material from one farm to another.
  • People and vehicles must all be well controlled and not allowed onto the farm unless disinfected properly with a remedy, like ACT LA, which is tested to kill the FMD virus.

“The effects will be worse than on a cattle farm and destroy the ranch financially and from a biodiversity point of view,” says Dr Oberem. Piet Warren, game farmer from Gravelotte, Limpopo, next to Kruger Park, recently stated that his decision to sell his game ranch and other businesses and emigrate to Australia has been greatly influenced by FMD outbreaks. “We sold our farm, Josephine, where we have lived for 39 years, after the fiasco of the 2021 outbreak of FMD. We realised that farming is no longer viable in this area,” Piet said.

Latest updates

Since the ban on the movement of cattle was introduced on 18 August, 500 000 animals, 200 000 of which in KwaZulu-Natal, have been inoculated against the disease to stop its spread.

“The additional outbreaks occurred during the current lockdown period, and this is an indication of how much effort must be made to combat the further spread of the virus,” states the RPO. “The outbreaks occurred during the period where there was a ban on the movement of cattle, and it can be speculated what the total number of outbreaks would have been if the ban had not been introduced.”

The RPO emphasises that the bio-security measures on farms are now of the utmost importance and that every producer must take responsibility for self-regulating his own farming enter­prise. The RPO again appealed to pro­ducers not to bring in animals of which the health status cannot be confirmed to their farms.

No cases of FMD have been reported in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape. Agricultural institutions in these provinces welcomed the possible par­tial lifting of the ban, with the provision that movement is very closely moni­tored afterwards.

Warthog and wild pigs are notoriously difficult to keep contained by fences and can spread FMD. (Source: Pixabay)

Youth Show

Meanwhile, the management of the Western Cape Youth Show withdrew from the national championship that will take place in Lichtenburg, North­west Province, in October. The decision was taken on the advice of the Western Cape Department of Agriculture and other role-players, including the RPO.

“Henk was in tears earlier this week as he was extremely disappointed about not taking part,” says Henry Meyer, father of Henk Meyer who was included in the Western Cape Youth Show team that would have taken part in the national championships. This would have been the unbeatable team’s first chance in two years to participate after the event was cancelled during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Contact details – Dr Peter Oberem, WRSA Director of Breeding, Animal Health, and Bios­ecurity on peter.oberem@afrivet. or 082-821-6577.


Jori, F., Etter, E. (2016) Transmis­sion of foot and mouth disease at the wildlife/livestock interface of the Kruger National Park, South Africa: Can the risk be mitigated? S0167587716300332

Milford, B. (2022) “Wes-Kaap Jeugskou nie vanjaar by nasionale kampioenskappe nie.” Agri-Expo vwlOpl0HURKtgrP0ofO00iDnq4IiYQK­MCOE7A4wvu4Hs1WOtC2ylVa4E

“RPO reacts on the ban on the movement of cattle.” RPO Red Meat Bulletin September 2022