Introducing buffaloes to Rietspruit Reserve: A significant milestone

In the realm of wildlife conservation, the introduction of a small disease-free buffalo herd to the Rietspruit Reserve stands as a significant milestone. While the process has been far from straightforward, it highlights the importance of stringent veterinary controls and the preservation of both wildlife and agriculture.

Research into the history of this area revealed that the region was once home to thousands of free-roaming buffalo. However, due to their role as carriers of four tightly regulated diseases—Bovine Tuberculosis, Foot and Mouth, Brucellosis, and Corridor Disease—acquiring permits for buffalo presents a significant challenge. The effects of these diseases on the agricultural sector have far-reaching implications, requiring strict controls and fencing requirements that are rigorously enforced by the Department of Nature Conservation.

Khaya Ndlovu Safari Manor is the only commercial safari lodge on the Rietspruit Reserve, which is situated in the veterinary “buffer zone,” a vital safeguard designed to protect the disease-free areas. The invisible boundary is marked by the R40 road, which separates the “dirty” zone to the east from the “clean” zone to the west. This geographical distinction ensures that only disease-free buffalo inhabit the controlled areas, preventing the spread of these diseases to the agricultural sectors.

To comply with the veterinary fencing requirements, Khaya Ndlovu Safari Manor have upgraded an enclosed camp within the Rietspruit Game Reserve, and after undergoing a series of rigorous blood tests to confirm their disease-free status, an exclusive family herd of buffalo has recently been introduced.

Though some may debate the authenticity of this small group as a true free-roaming herd, their long-awaited and bureaucracy-laded inclusion in the Reserve serves as a crucial step toward a larger vision. The Reserve’s management aims for the entire Reserve to eventually meet veterinary standards and host a substantial buffalo population. This will restore the “buffer-zone” region of the Rietspruit Game Reserve to its natural state, allowing all members of the Big Five to roam freely as they historically did before cattle farming dominated the lowveld area.

As keystone species, buffalo play a vital role in land management. Supporting large, robust bodies, their cloven hooves break up the soil, promoting nutrient recycling and enhancing veld growth, ultimately increasing the land’s carrying capacity. Beyond the iconic wildlife, this endeavour prioritizes the restoration of the land’s biodiversity, and further enhances the tourism value of the region.

All aspects considered, it’s a momentous breakthrough and Khaya Ndlovu Safari Manor finally has its Big-Five!

A brief description of the notifiable diseases:

Foot & Mouth Disease:Foot and Mouth disease is a severe and highly contagious viral disease, affecting all cloven-hoofed ruminants, and easily transmitted by buffalo who serve as the reservoir host. An outbreak can deeply affect the production of domestic livestock, disrupting all trade in animals and animal products. It therefore has a significant economic impact, hence the severe controls enforced by the Department of Nature Conservation.

Bovine Tuberculosis:Buffalo are also considered to be the major reservoirs for Bovine Tuberculosis (TB). As a maintenance host, they can live for a long time in reasonably good condition once infected with the disease. Bovine TB is a zoonotic disease meaning it can be spread from the host species to humans, and with over 12 000 human deaths recorded annually from Bovine TB, the control of the disease has become of global importance.

Corridor Disease:Buffalo are also the natural carriers of the acute tick-transmitted Corridor Disease. They show no disease signs nor become visibly ill, but the disease is usually fatal to domestic cattle and therefore, like F & M, has a significant economic impact on the agricultural industry.

Brucellosis (Contagious Abortion) CA: CA is an important bacterial disease of cattle and buffalo causing several maladies in domestic cattle, included repeated abortions. Like Bovine TB, it is also zoonotic and can have serious consequences when humans are inflicted, which they can be from consumption of raw milk or biltong from infected animals.

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