2023 (No. 2)
Dear AHEAD Colleagues,
Welcome to the latest issue of the AHEAD Update. As always, if you would like to post an item in the next Update, please just send it to us – thanks.
AHEAD at 20 Years: What Do We Want for Our Birthday?
On our 20th birthday, AHEAD's wish is for the donor community to finally recognize that the challenge of managing transboundary animal diseases (TADs) lies at the heart of whether transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs) will succeed or fail. If we do not invest in TAD management, TFCAs will fail to become the ecologically resilient land-use entities required for long-term delivery of poverty alleviation and related development as well as biodiversity conservation benefits. As the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area's (KAZA's) remaining key wildlife corridors, needed for wildlife populations to survive and thrive for generations to come, continue to be blocked by veterinary cordon fences, the urgency of donor countries recognizing that they must help improve regional animal disease management cannot be overstated. This is especially true for those European donors to TFCAs whose nations set-up the veterinary cordon fencing-based disease management system in the first place — starting in the 1950s when today's KAZA countries were European colonies or protectorates. If European consumers were aware that some of the beef they buy is produced at huge environmental cost to southern Africa's wildlife, they would likely demand a rethinking of today's fencing paradigm, one with roots in the colonial era but with impacts on KAZA's wildlife that have persisted on up to the present.
AHEAD was launched in 2003 at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Durban. In our 20th anniversary year, some introspection certainly seems prudent. Our goal, our raison d'être, has been to serve as "a convening, facilitative mechanism, working to create enabling environments that allow different and often competing sectors to literally come to the same table and find collaborative ways forward to address challenges at the interface of wildlife health, livestock health, and human health and livelihoods." We continue on our mission to convene stakeholders, help delineate conceptual frameworks to underpin planning, management and research, and provide technical support and resources for projects stakeholders identify as priorities. As one of the first applied One Health programs, AHEAD recognizes the need to look at health, disease, and the environment together, while always taking a given region's socioeconomic, political, and policy context into account.
How are AHEAD and our many critical partners across the SADC region and around the world doing?
Perhaps the most important recent milestone has been OIE (now WOAH) acceptance of commodity-based trade of beef (CBT) as a new way for even the poorest of farmers living closest to wildlife to be able to access new markets and better prices for their beef without strict reliance on veterinary cordon fencing. As I outlined in the previous AHEAD Update, "commodity-based trade of beef is only one side of the resilience coin,"
With less dependence on fences to mitigate risks of FMD (because CBT focuses on how beef can be safely produced along value chains rather than worrying about whether any buffalo are in the neighborhood), communities in places like northern Botswana or Namibia's Zambezi Region are on the verge of having new opportunities to expand their participation in wildlife economies. Specifically, if CBT has indeed created an enabling environment to revisit veterinary fencing policy (and we believe it has), then ecologically meaningful transfrontier conservation in a landscape like KAZA can finally become a reality. In short, with the advent of CBT, we may actually be able to reopen wildlife corridors to allow for migrations that had been the norm for millennia, long before veterinary fencing began blocking them starting in the late 1950s. Restoration reinforcing system resilience.
But what are the ongoing obstacles to a more sectorally integrated approach to land-use planning? Perhaps the most significant one is the basic fact that, across any given SADC transfrontier conservation area (TFCA), different member states likely each experience somewhat different animal disease challenges compared to their neighbors. Of course a TFCA needs to be recognized and managed as one epidemiological unit, meaning that decision-makers have to recognize that an animal disease problem in one country is going to be of concern to all other countries comprising that TFCA.
The good news is that the leaders of departments of veterinary services across a TFCA like KAZA all recognize and acknowledge this, as does the SADC Livestock Technical Committee. TAD management requires transboundary coordination in terms of surveillance, data-sharing, vaccination programs, and emergency response. Again, all of our colleagues leading departments of veterinary services in KAZA know all of this— the KAZA Animal Health Sub Working Group (AHSWG), which AHEAD helps to steward in partnership with the KAZA Secretariat, has been a valuable platform for the five KAZA Partners States to utilize to consider and co-plan on these critical issues. See the update below about the latest, extremely productive KAZA AHSWG meeting held in Divundu, Namibia in June.
So, why does the implementation of coordinated TAD control remain so challenging? Perhaps the most basic reason is a pervasive lack of resources. Even within a given KAZA country, adequate funding for robust surveillance, data management, vaccination programs, and emergency response is often elusive. Scale those needs across the five KAZA countries, and the challenges, including those related to adequate staffing, become even more clear. Yet, if we fail to help all countries within a given TFCA actually co-manage the disease threats to the livestock sector that all value highly—culturally, economically, and politically—then how can we expect significant progress in terms of fostering habitat connectivity across international boundaries? How can we lower the actual or perceived risks of the vision of restoring wildlife migrations by removing segments of the most environmentally damaging fences when a given country fears diseases they believe or know are across the border? Keep in mind that, even for diseases like contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP or lung disease), in which wildlife plays no role, fences are seen as a vital way to separate "my cattle" from "your cattle" when livestock health is a concern.
What to do? For our 20th anniversary wish, we implore the donor community to finally recognize that the challenge of successful management of TADs lies at the heart of whether TFCAs will ever become the ecologically resilient land-use entities required for long-term delivery of poverty alleviation and related development as well as biodiversity conservation benefits. Tens of millions of dollars to address conservation as well as climate change are currently flowing into KAZA, but virtually none are available for helping the five countries collaboratively control key animal diseases—which can actually only be done successfully if the five countries are all able to work in a coordinated way with adequate resources. As KAZA's remaining key wildlife corridors, needed for wildlife populations to survive and thrive for generations to come, continue to be degraded and blocked, the urgency of donor countries recognizing that they must help improve regional animal disease management cannot be overstated. This is especially true for those European donors to TFCAs whose nations set-up the veterinary cordon fencing-based disease management system in the first place— starting in the 1950s when today's KAZA countries were European colonies or protectorates. If European consumers were aware that some of the beef they buy is produced at huge environmental cost to southern Africa's wildlife, they would likely demand a rethinking of today's fencing paradigm, one with roots in the colonial era but with impacts on KAZA's wildlife that have persisted on up to the present.
Steve Osofsky, DVM
Director, AHEAD Program
The long-term viability of KAZA's elephants as a transboundary meta-population depends upon maintaining landscape connectivity. Thus, securing and connecting (or re-connecting) wildlife corridors and other high-connectivity value localities in the TFCA is a crucially important first step. Doing so will also allow movement from densely populated areas within the landscape to areas with greatly reduced elephant numbers. Transboundary movement corridors across KAZA TFCA are in various stages of intactness and face the potential threat of permanent closure due to, inter alia, encroaching human settlements, agriculture and infrastructure developments (e.g. roads, rail), livestock disease control measures (veterinary cordon fences), and potential mining developments...
Recommendations and actions to reduce the threats to connectivity within KAZA include:
- Identify the key natural resource use focal points in KAZA (e.g., water, woodlands) which need to be available for access by elephants (and other wildlife);
- Undertake regular KAZA-wide synchronised aerial surveys to determine trends in numbers and seasonal distributions;
- As appropriate, assess the feasibility of removal or realignment of fences to allow movement – particular consideration to the northern buffalo fence in Botswana, the Botswana-Namibia Zambezi border fence, and the Botswana-Namibia western border fence.
Click here for full report.
KAZA Animal Health Sub Working Group (AHSWG) Meets in Divundu, Namibia
In its first in-person meeting since the pandemic, AHSWG delegates were hosted by Namibia and Chairperson Dr. Albertina Shilongo (Chief Veterinary Officer, Directorate of Veterinary Services, Namibia) from June 13-15 in Divundu, Namibia. The purpose of the meeting was to (i) share and review updates on key animal health related issues (current and emerging) within KAZA, (ii) review progress on workplan activities since the last meeting, and (iii) discuss challenges that have a bearing on KAZA, including but not limited to:
- FMD serotype O, CBPP and PPR
- Regional diagnostic capacity and training needs
- Progress on commodity-based trade (CBT) of beef, and associated Herding for Health efforts
- Veterinary fences in KAZA
Delegates also visited Botswana's Zambezi Border fence and discussed its impacts on wildlife as well as whether the entire fence is still necessary for animal disease control purposes. The eastern portion of this fence separates Namibia's Bwabwata National Park from Botswana's NG 13 Wildlife Management Area.
Details on the AHSWG meeting, including PDFs of the presentations given at the meeting and a photo gallery, are available here.
Dr. Kefentse Motshegwa (Director, Dept. of Veterinary Services, Botswana), AHEAD's Dr. Steve Osofsky, and Dr. Albertina Shilongo (Chief Veterinary Officer, Directorate of Veterinary Services, Namibia) at Botswana's Zambezi Border veterinary cordon fence, a double fence-line which lies between Namibia's Bwabwata National Park and Botswana's NG 13, which is designated as a Wildlife Management Area. The KAZA Animal Health Sub Working Group meeting in Divundu, including a field visit by delegates from the five KAZA partner states to this fence, was a breakthrough in many ways, including in the building of trust and mutual understanding across sectors, which is ultimately the currency of any meaningful policy change.
More New Resources
McCain, N (2023) Highway Patrol: The Race to Create Wildlife Corridors Before Species Die Out.
This news article from South Africa discusses wildlife corridors and the important role they play in the survival of migratory or wide-ranging wildlife in southern Africa.
White House Council on Environmental Quality (2023) Guidance on Ecological Connectivity and Wildlife Corridors.
Executive Office of the President of the United States
The White House has, in a first for the U.S., issued federal agency-wide guidance on integrating ecological connectivity considerations into land-use policy and planning efforts.
van Dam A, et al. (2023) Complexities of Multispecies Coexistence: Animal Diseases and Diverging Modes of Ordering at the Wildlife-Livestock Interface in Southern Africa.
Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space
Focusing on FMD and trypanosomiasis in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, this paper explores the complexity of coexistence among humans, livestock, wildlife, vectors and pathogens.
Ekwem D, et al. (2023) Local and Wide-Scale Livestock Movement Networks Inform Disease Control Strategies in East Africa.
Livestock mobility exacerbates infectious disease risks across sub-Saharan Africa, but enables critical access to grazing and water resources, and trade. Identifying locations of high livestock traffic offers opportunities for targeted disease control.
Rodarte KA, et al. (2023) A Scoping Review of Zoonotic Parasites and Pathogens Associated with Abattoirs in Eastern Africa and Recommendations for Abattoirs as Disease Surveillance Sites.
Frontiers in Public Health
Abattoirs are important One Health interfaces. Based on the findings of their scoping review, the authors discuss ways to improve abattoir biosafety and increase biosurveillance for disease control and mitigation.
Osofsky SA, et al. (2023) An Immediate Way to Lower Pandemic Risk: (Not) Seizing the Low-Hanging Fruit (Bat).
The Lancet Planetary Health
The authors make the case that pandemic prevention requires a global taboo whereby humanity agrees to leave bats alone – to let them have the habitats they need and live undisturbed.
Again, if you have items for the next AHEAD Update, please just let us know – thanks.
Yours in One Health,
Steve & Shirley
Steve Osofsky, DVM
Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine
Jay Hyman Professor of Wildlife Health & Health Policy
Director, AHEAD Program
Shirley Atkinson, MSc
Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine
Assistant Director, Wildlife Health & Health Policy
AHEAD Program Coordinator
What is AHEAD?
AHEAD works to create enabling environments that allow different and often competing sectors to literally come to the same table and find collaborative ways forward to address challenges at the interface of wildlife health, livestock health, and human health and livelihoods. We convene stakeholders and provide technical support and resources for projects locally identified as priorities. AHEAD, one of the first applied One Health programs, recognizes the need to look at health, disease, and the environment together, while always taking a given region's socioeconomic, political, and policy context into account.