Friday, August 27, 2010

Hippo Story

Today I found out about hippos, anthrax and the historic event in Uganda that led epidemiologists to conclude that hippos are carnivorous (as opposed to the general knowledge that they are herbivores and only eat grass at night) and can eat the remains of another hippo especially during the dry months when they have nutritionally imbalanced diets. Some areas like Uganda have anthrax in the soil that can withstand the heat and can easily be eaten by animals then transferred to humans. In this epidemic, the whole story involved more than 300 hippos at a national park dying with a particular strain of anthrax virus that probably started with one hippo eating grass infected with anthrax then died. The rangers always found a group of hippos around a hippo carcass and eventually found out that they were eating the intestines that were exposed once the hippos die. The tribe people living around the park also died when they ate the meat of the dead hippo. Even with restrictions to hunting and eating hippos, the meat was a popular delicacy and was believed to aide women to be more fertile. The epidemic had a natural death and the world, especially those in Uganda, knew a thing a thing or two now about handling baffling cases like these that occur naturally in the world of hippos. Oh, and I learned that anthrax looks like a violet virus under the microscope. Anthrax will kill you and can be contracted through touch (a black spot in the area will appear), inhaling (it will target your lungs and do the damage there) and by ingestion (it will target your intestines).  

Communications and cooperation between the vet in Uganda, their research facility, the rangers, the local people who helped with all the labor-intensive stuff, a foreign volunteer veterinarian epidemiologist and a facility in Germany that specializes in identifying biological weapons led to the root cause of the problem surrounding the case of the dying hippos in the national park. It just made me think that dangers lurk everywhere even from the soil to seemingly harmless hippos. These people who worked this case actually had something to be proud of for their dedication to their chosen fields. I hope this new knowledge teaches me something but does not attribute to a fear that will send me running the opposite direction when an opportunity to travel to say, South Africa, comes along.

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