Relationship between burden of infection in ungulate populations and wildlife/livestock interfaces
In southern African transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs), people, livestock and wildlife share space and resources in semi-arid landscapes. One consequence of the coexistence of wild and domestic herbivores is the risk of pathogen transmission. This risk threatens local livelihoods relying on animal production, public health in the case of zoonoses, national economies in the context of transboundary animal diseases, and the success of integrated conservation and development initiatives. The level of interaction between sympatric wild and domestic hosts, defining different wildlife/livestock interfaces, characterizes opportunities of pathogen transmission between host populations. Exploring the relationship between infection burden and different types of wildlife/domestic interfaces is therefore necessary to manage the sanitary risk in animal populations through control options adapted to these multi-host systems. Here, we assessed the infection burdens of sympatric domestic cattle (Bos taurus/Bos indicus) and African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) at an unfenced interface and compared the infection burdens of cattle populations at different wildlife/livestock interfaces in the Great Limpopo TFCA. Patterns of infection in ungulate populations varied between wild and domestic hosts and between cattle populations at different wildlife/livestock interfaces. Foot-and-mouth disease, Rift Valley fever and theileriosis infections were detected in buffalo and cattle at unfenced interfaces; bovine tuberculosis was only present in buffalo; and brucellosis and lumpy skin disease only in cattle. At unfenced interfaces, cattle populations presented significantly higher Theileria parva and brucellosis prevalence. We hypothesize that cattle populations at wildlife/livestock interfaces face an increased risk of infection compared to those isolated from wildlife, and that the type of interface could influence the diversity and quantity of pathogens shared. Additional host behavioural and molecular epidemiological studies need to be conducted to support this hypothesis. If it is confirmed, the management of wildlife/livestock interfaces will need to be considered through the prism of livestock and public health.