What is Brucellosis?
It is causing several economic, sanitary and environmental issues. Consequently, some drastic measures have been used to eradicate it. Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that mainly affects wild ungulates and domestic animals, especially livestock herds.
In animals,the disease can manifest itself as arthritis, or can cause abortions. When there is no abortion, the bacteria can pass into the milk and can contaminate the young. This disease is a zoonosis, it can pass from animals to humans.
It can cause an undulant fever or a form of arthritis which severe secondary effects, paralysis or even mortality.
Brucellosis was supposed to have been eradicated in France since 2005, but, in 2012, a young boy contracted brucellosis after eating unpasteurized products. A few weeks later, a cow was found to be a carrier of brucellosis.
The problem is, when a cow is declared positive, the law requires to kill the whole herd to get rid of brucellosis in a relatively confined environment. Farmers are frightened by the idea of a potential contamination of their livestock. Morally it is complicated, losing all you work tools, and starting again afterward, it is difficult.
Brucellosis has affected the regional economy. Indeed, if cows are affected, all the industry is affected, and France could loose its “Brucellosis Free” status. Sanitary crises impact selling directly. If the disease affects reblochon, all the reblochon and raw milk production chain will be impacted.
So each cheese has to be tested, which is expensive and may reduce exportations because of a breach of confidence. If haute-savoie is not brucellosis free, the economic consequences could be significant.
So for farmers it is really dangerous even if clinically or medically it looks benign for their herds. However, Brucellosis was also detected in Bargy’s Ibexes, which might be the origin of the disease.
During the pasture period indeed, cattle and ibexes are said to come into contact, allowing the disease to be transmitted. Abortions induced by brucellosis on ibexes created vulvar discharge on the grass, which is grazed by cows.
Moreover, the risk of transmission is not so high because females climb up inaccessible rocky chains to give birth. The transmission risk of brucellosis is extremely low. It is an extremely isolated sporadic case. Despite this low risk, during 2013 the departmental prefect decided to cull off all ibexes, even though it’s a protected and reintroduced species.
This first decision was to kill all the ibexes whether they were ill or not. Unfortunately, this measure failed because the targeted ibexes weren’t totally killed. So, the negative ones could be contaminated the following year because they reproduce with contaminated animals, and there wouldn’t be a healthy core anymore.
Moreover,culling ibexes has a negative impact on local activities, especially ecotourism which attracts a lot of people who want to see the emblematic animals of these mountains.
Last summer, I have offered alternative hikes in other mountains to my clients because I wanted to be sure that we could see animals, especially ibexes. From our professional point of view, culling all the ibexes, is like removing our working tools.
Another problem is that the first decision to cull off ibexes was made by non-scientists: Things are not always done the way they should because no test was done. It would have been a huge database for scientists but instead of that, dead ibexes were taken directly to the slaughterhouse with no prior biological analysis.
So, in 2012, basically 230 ibexes were killed in 3 days. In addition, the inhabitants were not all aware of this measure or of why it was taken. Because of all this confusion this management decision is highly polemical and not well accepted by most locals. That’s why, in 2014, experts were mandated by associations to give their recommendations.
After a one-year study they were able to offer a new solution which excludes non selective culling. Along with the expert research, and because Brucellosis is an issue culling was done differently: Ibexes were anesthetized to test if they were ill.
People in charge of culling shot the positive ones and marked the negative ones. So they would constitute a healthy core. Then the government made an official decision based on the sanitary experts’conclusions.
In May 2016, the ministers of agriculture and ecology, co signed a guidance letter to the departmental prefect which indicates the obligation to cull only positive animals. However, scientists are recommending the study of a vaccination protocol and a monitoring over several years.
This is what we are supporting. The return of Brucellosis is a real matter threatening farmers’ activity. Consequently, ibexes are culled. Culling this protected species is highly polemical.
Politicians, lobbyists, sanitary regulation and ecologists are spurring the debate. But, it is not over yet. The ministerial decision could be threatened.
Indeed, last summer, the National Federation of farmers and local politicians, asked the President permission to start massive culling again and he agreed.
The future of the emblematic ibex in the Bargy remains, unfortunately, uncertain.