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Livestock health training workshop in Kenya

Torrential rain and a missing goat set the tone for the three-day workshop held at the Mpala Research Centre

17 December 2019, at 9:00am

A training workshop entitled “Livestock Health” was held at Mpala Research Centre (MRC), Laikipia, Kenya, from Wednesday 11 to Friday 13 September 2019. It attracted 14 participants, from different backgrounds – veterinarians, livestock managers and wildlife researchers. There are a couple of mantras that are key to delivering a workshop in Africa: “it will (probably) be all right on the day” and “expect the unexpected”.

The workshop was opened by Dino Martins, Director of MRC. Dino welcomed participants to Laikipia and the centre, and emphasised the importance of a healthy environment if livestock were to be free of disease, wildlife populations were to remain healthy and viable and their shared habitat was to withstand environmental changes.

The course got underway with registration and the important East African formalities, including welcoming addresses, a personal statement and introduction by each participant and security/health and safety briefings.

The first lecture, “Health”, was given by John Cooper who discussed the principles of promoting health and diagnosing disease, with particular emphasis on livestock but some reference to wild animals. He outlined veterinary and medical methods of investigation and involved registrants in defining and discussing terms such as “health”, “disease”, “pathogen” and “zoonoses”. He drew distinctions between infectious and non-infectious diseases but stressed that there was often overlap. Insofar as infectious agents are concerned, particular attention was paid to the importance of the host–parasite relationship and how disturbances in this can influence health and productivity.

The second lecture was entitled “Common livestock diseases” and was presented by Maureen Kamau, a Kenyan veterinary surgeon, who is based at MRC. Maureen outlined the principles of herd health management, exclusion and prevention of infectious diseases (quarantine and biosecurity), clinical and subclinical disease monitoring, correct use of antibiotics and good husbandry. Infectious conditions discussed included those caused by bacteria (contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, anthrax, pneumonia), viruses (foot-and-mouth disease, peste des petits ruminants, sheep and goat pox) and protozoa (East Coast fever and anaplasmosis). Some diseases affect both livestock and wild animals and are therefore important in the Laikipia area.

During a break for refreshments there was an opportunity to view an extensive display of literature, including publications donated by Universities Federation for Animal Welfare and the Humane Slaughter Association. Margaret Cooper then spoke about health and safety. She reminded her audience of the need to protect people against hazards. Even in countries such as Kenya, that have health and safety legislation, it is important that appropriate risk assessments are drawn up and applied.

Following lunch, the participants went by bus to the Mpala “campsite”, an idyllic spot overlooking the Ewaso Nyiro River, where most of the visitors were staying for the workshop. En route to and from the campsite there were sightings of wildlife, including impala, giraffe, buffalo and dik-dik, a reminder of the challenges of ranching livestock in a location that boasts a high density of wildlife.

The afternoon session covered clinical and post-mortem examination and the collection of samples under field conditions.

Clinical examination of live animals was to be demonstrated by the four veterinarians in the group (Figure 1) from three different countries (Maureen Kamau, Kenya; Nashipai Seketeti, Kenya; Christophe Ntakirutimana, Rwanda; John E Cooper, United Kingdom/Kenya) using chickens and a goat. In previous years we would set up tables under a canopy for protection from the sun, but this no longer existed as the large golden-barked acacia tree standing nearby had fallen and destroyed it. However, sunstroke proved to be the least of our problems since, at this point, gathering clouds approached and released their rain ensuring that the practical post-mortem session descended into organised chaos as the wind drove the water into our tent and made instruction inaudible (Figure 2). Once the rain cleared, examination of the dead chickens proceeded (Figures 3 and 4). Flushed with the success, we discovered that the promised goat had gone AWOL. An intensive search by all eventually discovered it in a small hut some hundred metres away in the bush (Figure 5). With time running out, a physical examination of the animal proceeded but it was reprieved from the planned post-mortem examination.

Day two started early with an ad hoc practical session. A local zebu cow had been reported sick and had to be slaughtered. The carcass was offered to the group for a post-mortem examination and arrived in the back of a trailer. Deposited in the shade of a convenient but thorny tree, this animal provided a superb opportunity, relished with gusto by the participants, for a thorough necropsy, proper record keeping and collection of diagnostic samples from external and internal organs (Figures 6 and 7).

The participants heard lectures by David Hewett, the farm manager of Mpala Ranch, who discussed the management of livestock alongside wildlife and cattle owned by local communities. Ellie Milnes came in from the neighbouring Ol Jogi Ranch but chose to speak about the problems of farming in New Zealand.

After a stimulating morning, a visit was made to a local, very poor, community where, using Swahili, registrants talked to village leaders and learnt about health problems in their cattle, sheep and poultry. Faeces and other samples were collected for laboratory investigation. We were then invited to visit the school and each one of us to address the pupils – who were exhorted to study hard and aim for a positive future. In return, they performed their school’s special thanks and farewell.

Day three started with an interactive laboratory session. Registrants worked in small groups examining material in MRC’s McCormack Laboratory and in improvised field locations (Figure 8). The latter provided an opportunity to use a range of portable field items such as a Newton microscope, other battery or solar-operated instruments and a plastic Coplin jar. A final lecture, on forensic sampling methods by Susan Underkoffler, was on the programme but no classroom was available. A resourceful Mpala-based Princeton Fellow, whose talents include charming the chef and IT manager into rigging-up the data projector and an old sheet in the dining room, took control and Susan was able to do her presentation.

The culmination of the workshop was the closing ceremony. Certificates were presented by Dino Martins, photos of new-found friends were taken and Margaret Cooper thanked the MRC administrators, especially Sheila Njoroge, Cosmas Nzomo and Fardosa Hassan, who had helped make the three days a success.

John E Cooper, DTVM, FRCPath, FRSB, CBiol, FRCVS, trained as a veterinary surgeon and is now a specialist pathological with particular interests in wildlife and exotic diseases and comparative medicine. Margaret E Cooper, LLB, FLS, is a lawyer who qualified originally as a British solicitor and has made the study of animal and conservation law her special interest.

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