Is Airwolf shooting on location in Tanzania? Not quite, instead a much more interesting show took place in Ruaha National Park this August. HALI team members supported a helicopter-based operation to immobilize buffalo as part of a large South African Development Community (SADC) project for foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) surveillance in livestock and wildlife. HALI veterinarians were invited to participate in the captures in order to collect samples for ongoing project work investigating bovine tuberculosis (BTB) in wildlife in the Ruaha ecosystem. In Tanzania, African buffalo can harbor FMD and BTB, and studying buffalo and other wildlife reservoirs of infectious disease is important in understanding the epidemiology of these diseases in places where wildlife, livestock, and human populations interact.
During the capture, a total of 30 African buffalo were sampled, a pretty amazing success rate as buffalo are notoriously difficult to capture safely for sampling. SADC teams with the assistance of the Tanzania National Parks staff immobilized the buffalo using tranquilizing dart guns from the helicopter. When working with large ungulate herds, it is often easier to immobilize animals using air support, as the animals can be kept together in a herd with the chopper functioning almost like an aerial cowboy and allowing veterinarians to target several animals at a time with tranquilizing darts. Meanwhile, four ground teams (each with a HALI team member), were responsible for checking the status of the animals, taking samples from the immobilized and sleeping buffalo, and monitoring and ensuring that the animals returned safely to the herd.
The HALI team also conducted some surveys of buffalo populations in the Ruaha ecosystem this September. We’ll post more on our other buffalo and wildlife research activities soon.