Veterinary Science Research is critical to the protection of public health and advancement of science that benefits both humans and animals as individuals and populations. Veterinary research includes studies on basic biology and welfare of animals and diagnosis, treatment, prevention and control of diseases/infections. The Faculty of Veterinary Science has adopted a research strategic plan that seeks excellence in research, generates novel scientific information, and provides solutions to existing and anticipated problems in animal health, production and welfare. The research policy is primarily aimed at improving production of livestock and livestock products as well as improving the welfare of animals. As a way of encouraging interdisciplinary research, the Faculty is actively involved in developing both local and international collaborative research links. Locally, research funding opportunities have been realized through the University Research Board and internationally through the Norwegian Council for Higher Education’s Programme for Development Research and Education (NUFU), Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA), Research Platform “Production and Conservation in Partnership” (RP-PCP), RenCaRe, Fort Hare University, University of KwaZulu Natal, Venda University, Stellenbosch University and others. There is no restriction with regards to research fields. However, currently emphasis has been placed on the following areas:
- Epidemiology and molecular techniques for identification of important zoonoses such as Brucella spp and Bacillus anthracis
- Seroprevalence and risk factors for canine brucellosis and leptospirosis
- Disease transmission between wildlife and livestock at different wildlife/livestock interfaces
- Ethno-veterinary control of bovine dermatophilosis and ticks
- Effects of Boophone disticha extract on early maternal separation followed by later stressors on anxiety-mice models
- Effects of Helichrysum species on rangelands and livestock production
- Genetic resistance of Matabele goats to worms
- Effects of legume forages on milk production in goats
Research activities in these areas and others has resulted in the Faculty publishing over 30 scientific papers in referred journals for the period 2010 to 2013 as shown under individual academic staff members.
Notable research findings
a) New Species Discovered
i) Trichinella zimbabwensis
Morphological, biological, biochemical and molecular studies on Trichinella larvae detected in the muscles of crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) on crocodile farms in Zimbabwe demonstrated that this was a parasite belonging to a new species, which has been named Trichinella zimbabwensis. Its detection represented the first observation of a reptile naturally infected with Trichinella. Trichinella zimbabwensis is the first known parasite capable of completing its life cycle in cold-blooded and warm-blooded vertebrates and is the first non-encapsulated species detected in Africa. Research has shown that this species infects both reptiles [e.g. crocodiles & Nile monitor lizards (Varanus niloticus)] and mammals [e.g. lions (Panthera leo)& leopards (P. pardus)]. Experimentally it was shown to infect rodents, domestic pigs, carnivores and primates.
ii) Mycoplasma crocodyli
A new, previously unrecognized Mycoplasma species from farmed crocodiles; Mycoplasma crocodyli was first reported in Zimbabwe. This new Mycoplasma species causes polyarthritis and pneumonia in crocodiles.
iii) Rickettsia africae
Studies demonstrated that rickettsial isolates from Amblyomma hebraeum ticks collected from Zimbabwe are phenotypically and genotypically distinct from the other spotted fever group rickettsia and this organism was named Rickettsia africae. This pathogen is the aetiological agent of African tick bite fever in humans.
b) First confirmation of important pathogens, vectors and/or disease conditions through isolation or serology
i) Mycobacterium bovis
This bacterium causes bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and can also infect humans. The presence of Mycobacterium bovis was confirmed for the first time in Gonarezhou National Park (GNP) buffaloes. Its presence has implications for the conservation of affected wildlife species and the health of humans and livestock living at the wildlife–livestock–human interface.
The research work on actinobacillosis resulted in the first time isolation of Actinobacillus lignieresii from a post-operative wound in a cat and from an ostrich.
iv) Psittacine beak and feather disease
This well-known viral disease (caused by a Circovirus) not previously diagnosed in Zimbabwe was shown to occur in the country affecting mostly two species of lovebirds; Agapornis nigrigensis and A. lillianae and had a different clinical course than that reported elsewhere.
v) Philophthalmus gralli (The oriental eye-fluke)
Tiny organisms isolated from commercially reared ostriches with severe eye infection in Zimbabwe were identified asPhilophthalmus gralli, the “oriental eye-fluke”. This was the first record of the oriental eye-fluke infection in birds in Zimbabwe and Africa and this extends its known geographical range.
vi) Snail intermediate hosts ofPhilophthalmus gralli (The oriental eye-fluke)
Through natural and experimental infection, a prosobranch snail, Melanoides tuberculata, was confirmed as the snail intermediate host of Philophthalmus gralli, the “oriental eye-fluke” in Zimbabwe.
vii) Fasciola (Tenuifasciola) tragelaphi
Fasciola tragelaphi, previously recovered from the Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei) was diagnosed a beef cow in the country for the first time.
A total of 128 scientific articles related to parasitic diseases have been published to date. Of the total publications, approximately 34% (44/127) focused on nematode infections, 20.3% (26/128) on protozoa infections and 15.6% (20/128) on trematode infections. Approximately 19% (24/128) of the papers dealt with treatment, control and prevention of parasitic diseases. Parasitic zoonoses researched on include trichinellosis, toxoplasmosis, ancylostomosis, toxocariosis and cysticercosis.
Trichinella larvae detected in the muscles of crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) on crocodile farms in Zimbabwe represented the first observation of a reptile naturally infected with Trichinella. Morphological, biological, biochemical and molecular studies done on these Trichinella larvae demonstrated that this parasite belongs to a new species, which has been namedTrichinella zimbabwensis. Trichinella zimbabwensis is the first known parasite capable of completing its life cycle in cold-blooded and warm-blooded vertebrates. In addition, T. zimbabwensisis the first non-encapsulated species detected in Africa. Sequence heterogeneity has been shown to occur among T. zimbabwensis isolates originating from different geographical locations of Zimbabwe. Research has shown that this species infects both reptiles (e.g. crocodiles & Nile monitor lizards, Varanus niloticus) and mammals (e.g. lions, Panthera leo& leopards, P. pardus). Experimentally it has been shown to infect rodents, domestic pigs, carnivores and primates. Despite experimentally infecting non-human primates, the zoonotic potential of T. zimbabwensis is currently unknown. However, crocodile and monitor lizard meat could be possibly a source of human infection with T. zimbabwensis.
Research on toxoplasmosis provided evidence of Toxoplasma gondii infection in goats, pigs, and sheep, wild bovidae (Tragelaphus spp) and farm-reared ostriches (Struthio camelus) and no evidence of infection in African wild suids (warthog, Phacochoerus africanus& bush pig, Potamochoerus larvatus). These results show that consumption of undercooked mutton, goat meat and pork from free-range domestic pigs is likely to be associated with the highest risk of contracting T. gondiiinfection in Zimbabwe. A potential risk is also the consumption of undercooked game meat wild bovids and ostriches.
Ancylostomosis and toxocariosis
Awareness studies on parasitic zoonoses demonstrated that the knowledge of parasitic diseases such as ancylostomosis (hookworms) and toxocariosis (roundworms) as zoonoses was low in pet owners. These results show that veterinarians are crucial link in keeping pet owners fully informed of zoonoses and ways to reduce the risk of zoonotic parasite transmission and, awareness and education arekey to this mission.
Other parasitic diseases
Research studies on gastrointestinal (GIT) nematodes infecting cattle revealed that nineteen GIT nematode species belonging to seven families occur in cattle in Zimbabwe. The main genera are Cooperia, Haemonchus, Trichostrongylus andOesophagostomum and the dominant species are Cooperia pectinata, Cooperia punctata, Haemonchus placei andTrichostrongylus axei. Production and husbandry practices, season, host age and environment are considered to be the main factors that influence GIT nematode infection in cattle. The current accumulated epidemiological data on GIT nematodes is used to design appropriate control measures.