Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tuberculosis in Lions hits the Saskatoon stage

Wildlife issues - a true lion story in this case - crop up in the most unlikely of places. I have just spent an enthralled and enthralling three days at a conference in Saskatoon, or more accurately, two intertwined conferences. The academic one titled "The Oral, the Written, and Other Verbal Media: Interfaces and Audiences" was closely linked with performance spoken word of several kinds in the cleverly titled “The eVOCative Festival and Conference”. There was Slam Poetry, Sound Poetry, Punning Poetry and beautiful poetry in several forms ranging from Hip Hop to Erotic and beyond as well as formal storytelling, although all of it could really be called storytelling.

The main organizer, Susan Gingell of the University of Saskatchewan, and her amazing team built the two events to complement each other and bring artists and academics from as far away as New Zealand and Australia, Trinidad, and Scotland as well as all over North America together. A core element was the involvement of aboriginal artists and their stories. She succeeded with gold stars.

Imagine my surprise when one of the presenters – Catherine Kidd (known by weird coincidence in this case as Cat) proceeded to tell the story, in a mesmerizing word and movement act full of clever rhymes and vivid images, of her witnessing the dying of a lioness in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. She and her host saw the animal, its skin stretched tight over unnaturally prominent ribs and hip bones, as it lay almost moribund beside the road. Her words soon confirmed my suspicions that the animal had been dying of tuberculosis and was a victim of its diet, as it surely must have eaten some part of an infected cape buffalo.

Cat’s prose poem and sinuous body movements (she later confirmed to me that she is a devoted yoga practitioner) moved on from the lion to a meeting with two refugees from Mozambique who were running the sixty kilometre gauntlet of a national park where lions and other large predators roam free in order to find jobs in South Africa. It is an all-too-chilling version of a certain TV show where good-looking guys and scantily clad women have to survive a weird collection of “hazards” dreamed up by script-writers. Nobody knows how many desperate men and women make it to safety, or fail horribly, in the real-life version.

This was drama enough, but I know that I was the only wildlife vet (albeit retired) in the audience and also the only one who knew and had written about these very same things. I was able to show Cat the photo that the Kruger’s chief vet, Dr. Markus Hofmyer had sent me of a lion that had died of TB lying on the postmortem room floor at Skukuza, site of the park headquarters. Of course TB has been known in the Kruger for the best part of thirty years, ever since it entered the park with infected cattle from the south. Buffalo are the main victims, but other species, including several antelopes and other predators such as leopards, cheetahs and hyaenas have also suffered. Markus has told me that about 25 lions a year die from the infection. And those are the ones they find!

Cat took some video footage of the lion’s last minutes, but has not yet edited it for release or published the written version, but she assures me that she soon will. When she does, I will get the news and permission and be one of the first to alert you and show you the text. Meanwhile you can find more about her published work and see some videos, almost all of it about animal life and her quirky view of it, on her web site.


Unknown said...

Hope the goverment of South Africa / the managment of the park will do something to prevent the outspread of TB before it's too late.

Anonymous said...

Good comment Christos. There has been a great deal of research since the first diagnosis of Tb in a cape buffalo in the park in 1990. Up until quite recently diagnosis involved the administration of a skin test that had to be read after 72 hours - obviously a nightmare scenario in a free-ranging animal. One major step has been the development of a "bedside" test. Then comes the challenge of what to do with the results of any testing. Tb is difficult enough to treat in humans, but in animals it is a different story. Treatment is not an option (six-month courses of daily medication are the minimum in people), but vaccination trials have been started. There are lots of hits on Google for words like Kruger, Tb, and buffalo, and several of them mention lions. Let's hope that the hard-working crew in the park can come up with something.