GABORONE, BOTSWANA — Botswana has put restrictions on the movement of cloven-hoofed animals in the northeast of the country after an incursion of buffalo from Zimbabwe put cattle at risk of contracting possible foot-and-mouth disease.
Zimbabwe National Parks reports that more than 500 buffalo recently crossed into Botswana from the Hwange National Park in search of water and food.
Botswana authorities fear the buffalo could spread foot-and-mouth disease to the country's cows, sheep and goats.
Botswana's director of veterinary services, Kefentse Motshegwa, says movement restrictions have been imposed on cattle in the affected areas in an effort to stop the possible spread of the ailment.
Veterinarians are testing cattle for foot-and-mouth disease, and farmers will be informed within 30 days of the outcome.
Last year, following an outbreak of the disease, the government culled more than 10,000 cattle to stop its spread.
Botswana's acting agriculture minister, Karabo Gare, says it is important to fight the spread of the disease, but there is also a need to safeguard humans from the buffalo, which are dangerous animals.
Wildlife management expert Erik Verreynne says buffalo are able to enter Botswana because of another large beast, elephants.
"We see more and more animals coming in as the government is battling to maintain the fences as elephants keep breaking them," Verreynne said.
Local veterinarian and farmer Mbatshi Mazwinduma says there is a need to take quick steps to avoid the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.
"The implications are that in these times of drought and in this time of lack of water resources, the buffaloes were hungry and thin; there is a risk that they may be shedding more virus and the government is doing all it can to round them up humanely, offer them water, and the ones that are depilated, to dispose of them humanely while also concurrently doing the necessary measures to make sure that the possibility of foot and mouth does not spread," Mazwinduma said.
Buffalo are often linked with the sporadic outbreaks of foot and mouth in Botswana, affecting beef exports.
Botswana, one of Africa's top beef producers, exports about 10,000 tons of beef annually to the European Union, where the country enjoys duty- and quota-free access.