Pumula South surburb under Zoonoses threat Damage caused by baboons that had invaded houses

Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Health Reporter
ALTHOUGH expansion of cities to create more residential areas for the ever-growing population has ushered in development in Bulawayo and surrounding areas, the same is fuelling human-wildlife conflicts.

These conflicts may seem far-fetched but they pose danger to humans who may find themselves contracting zoonotic diseases.

For example, Pumula South residents have had to endure a three-year-long torment from baboons which live in a bushy area adjacent to the residential area.

Defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as infectious diseases that jump from an animal to humans, zoonotics are caused by harmful germs like viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. These germs can cause many different types of illnesses in people and animals, ranging from mild to serious illnesses and even death.

WHO states that people living adjacent to wilderness areas or in semi-urban areas with higher numbers of wild animals such as Pumula South are at risk of contracting diseases from animals.

“Zoonotic pathogens may be bacterial, viral or parasitic, or may involve unconventional agents and can spread to humans through direct contact or through food, water or the environment. Urbanisation and the destruction of natural habitats increase the risk of zoonotic diseases by increasing contact between humans and wild animals,” said WHO in a statement.

Baboons in Pumula South

“Zoonoses comprise a large percentage of all newly identified infectious diseases as well as many existing ones. Some diseases, such as HIV, begin as a zoonosis but later mutate into human-only strains. Other zoonoses can cause recurring disease outbreaks, such as Ebola virus disease and salmonellosis.

Still others, such as the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, have the potential to cause global pandemics.”

At least 60 percent of human infections have been reported to have come from animals and as the nations including Zimbabwe continue battling with the effects of Covid-19 three years later, more effort should be put into ensuring humans are protected from contracting any zoonotic disease.

Local animal scientist and conservation enthusiast Miss Ndandatho Magagula said more sustainable and eco-friendly solutions are needed for the growing population without tampering with space meant for wildlife as that may increase the disease burden.

“To reduce fragmentation and encroachment into the area meant for wildlife, eco-friendlier solutions should be considered even by local authorities to reduce human-wildlife confusion thereby preventing the transmission of zoonotic diseases.

“Human-animal conflict is now prevalent even in our urban communities because as people, we find ourselves settling in spaces that originally belonged to animals. As Bulawayo keeps growing, we have to be careful not to encroach into spaces meant for animals like in Pumula South where houses are next to a bushy area infested with baboons. In such scenarios, animals feel entitled to nearby resources.

Baboons are mammals meaning what we eat is basically food to them which explains why they grab and steal food and fruits from residents,” she said.

Miss Magagula said Pumula South residents get diseases from eating food leftovers or food that would have been tampered with by baboons.

“Zoonotic diseases are difficult to treat in humans and can sometimes be deadly, hence the need to avert transmission in all ways possible. Pumula South residents should not eat or touch any food that has been tampered with by baboons, this includes agricultural produce from their fields as this increases their chance to contract diseases.”

The disgruntled residents said they were living in constant fear of diseases as the baboons were eating live chickens and attacking their dogs.

Mrs Thobekani Mpofu said residents feared that children who often play in the fields could easily contract diseases from baboons which spend most of their days roaming around the streets.

“Sadly, Zimparks have not attended to this looming crisis and these baboons keep increasing in number. Soon they will overpower us and we will not be able to control the population. We have resolved not to plant any grains as baboons eat everything, all our fruit trees belong to them as they start harvesting and eating fruits before they ripen,” she said.

“We are still recovering from Covid-19 which emanated from animals and honestly the next virus could come from our suburbs as baboons are freely co-habiting with humans. It’s like the Bulawayo City Council deliberately sold us stands next to a wildlife space and now we are stuck as we have invested a lot into these properties. Something should be done about these baboons before we poison them ourselves as we can’t continue living like we are in a bush when we are not even living in the rural areas,” she added.

In an article published in the BioMedical Central Journal, Mr Kevin Makwangudze and co-authors state that there is an increased interface between wildlife, humans and domestic animals which poses risks of zoonotic diseases.

“This creates opportunities for inter-species transmission of infectious diseases, including zoonoses like brucellosis and tuberculosis, which may also pose a health risk to the local rural communities.

Continuous poverty at the household, community, and national levels; inequalities within and between sectors; and global climate change contribute to the perpetuation and re-emergence of neglected tropical or zoonotic diseases such as schistosomiasis, anthrax, taeniasis, bovine tuberculosis, Rift Valley fever, and plague,” they said.

Although these cases have been raised, Zimbabwe is yet to formulate policies that will ensure humans don’t contract diseases from animals as has been the case in incidents which later on led to the development of pandemics like HIV, Ebola and the recent Covid-19 which has killed almost 6 000 Zimbabweans to date.

WHO adds that: “Over 30 new human pathogens have been detected in the last three decades, 75 percent of which have originated in animals. An observation of the trend of these zoonotic diseases is that new pathogens from animals, particularly viruses remain unpredictable and continue to emerge and spread across the countries.”

“The diseases are also a concern to global health owing to their epidemic potential, high case fatality ratio and the absence of specific treatment and vaccines available to control the spread of most of these zoonotic diseases (with the exception of the yellow fever vaccine). As the world is increasingly interconnected, emerging zoonoses in one country can potentially constitute a threat to global health security.”

WHO also states that ultimately, however, zoonoses matter not just because they are so common, but because they cause morbidity and mortality, a high burden on health systems and more importantly, it causes significant economic losses to the countries by way of losing animal trade, travel as well as loss of economic opportunities for the people through loss of livestock. — @thamamoe

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