The African buffalo: A villain for inter-species spread of infectious diseases in southern Africa

Anita L. Michel, Roy G. Bengis
Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research | Vol 79, No 2 | a453 | DOI: | © 2012 Anita L. Michel, Roy G. Bengis | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 June 2012 | Published: 20 June 2012

About the author(s)

Anita L. Michel, Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Roy G. Bengis, Directorate Veterinary Services, Skukuza, South Africa


The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a large wild bovid which until recently ranged across all but the driest parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and their local range being limited to about 20 km from surface water. They are of high ecological value due to their important role as bulk feeders in the grazing hierarchy. They also have high economic value, because they are one of the sought after ‘Big Five’ in the eco-tourism industry. In Africa, buffaloes have been recognised for some time as an important role player in the maintenance and transmission of a variety of economically important livestock diseases at the wildlife and/or livestock interface. These include African strains of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), Corridor disease (theileriosis), bovine tuberculosis and bovine brucellosis. For a number of other diseases of veterinary importance, African buffaloes may also serve as amplifier or incidental host, whereby infection with the causative pathogens may cause severe clinical signs such as death or abortion as in the case of anthrax and Rift Valley fever, or remain mild or subclinical for example heartwater. The long term health implications of most of those infections on the buffalo at a population level is usually limited, and they do not pose a threat on the population’s survival. Because of their ability to harbour and transmit important diseases to livestock, their sustainable future in ecotourism, trade and transfrontier conservation projects become complex and costly and reliable diagnostic tools are required to monitor these infections in buffalo populations.


African buffaloes; transboundary infectious diseases; wildlife/livestock interface


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