Anthrax kills three cheetahs in the Namib Desert • Earth.com
Anthrax is a zoonotic disease that affects both humans and wildlife, and is endemic in parts of Africa. Experts report a rare case of anthrax in which three wild Namib Desert cheetahs died within 24 hours of feeding on a zebra positive for the disease.
Since 2015, the Leibniz-IZW Cheetah Research Project (CRP) and the Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) have been conducting surveys to better understand cheetah populations and the conservation status in Namibia. As part of this important and ongoing search, a group of three male cheetahs have been captured and fitted with a GPS collar. Overflights of cheetah habitat regularly downloaded collars data while passing overhead. During one of these flights, the body of a tagged cheetah was discovered.
“Collared cheetah’s GPS data revealed that it died within six hours of days before we found it,” said Ruben Portas, a CRP scientist.
“By evaluating their most recent movements, we identified a cluster of GPS locations about two kilometers from where they were found dead. “
Visiting the group where the cheetahs had spent 20 hours the day before they died, the research team found the remains of a dead zebra infected with anthrax.
The data suggests that the cheetahs fed on the zebra and subsequently became infected with anthrax themselves. Carnivores are generally less susceptible to the disease but can sometimes succumb to it.
“When a high load of bacteria is ingested, for example with meat from a contaminated carcass, their potent constitutive innate immunity can be overloaded,” explained Bettina Wachter, head of the CRP project.
“Cheetahs rarely shed, which reduces their exposure to prey infected with anthrax. Therefore, they do not produce high antibody titers which would be another line of defense. So, cheetahs die quickly when infected, as studies conducted in Etosha National Park in northern Namibia have shown.
This case may be important for assessing the condition of cheetahs, especially in the Namib Desert, where the disease had not been previously discovered.
The study is published in the journal Frontiers in veterinary science.
Through Zach fitzner, Terre.com Editor-in-chief