Camels are quickly replacing cattle as a primary livestock animal in Kenya for their milk, meat, skins and the transport of goods. In Laikipia County, for example, the population of camels has risen an astonishing 835% over the last 30 years.
This population growth has implications for the diverse wildlife that calls Kenya home, like antelopes, gazelles and buffalo. This is because infectious diseases can spread from camels to other animals. Some diseases can even jump from animals to humans, including Rift Valley Fever, brucellosis, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), and external parasites, among others.
The surge in the number of camels across Kenya increases the potential for disease transmission. The growing number of camels in a shared space and their close association with people can make it easier for disease-causing bacteria and viruses to spread. It’s more of a risk than ever, because not many farmers, herders or local veterinarians are experienced in treating these diseases.
To help improve camel veterinary knowledge, promote wildlife health and lower the risk of diseases, a camel medicine course was held for Kenyan livestock veterinarians in March 2019. The course took place at the Kapiti Research Station, just 70 kilometers (about 43.5 miles) outside of Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi. Funded by the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute, training and instructional activities were led in collaboration with Saint Louis Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Medicine, the International Livestock Research Institute-Kapiti, and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Global Health Program (represented by Dr. Dawn Zimmerman).