Significant developments have been made in African horse sickness (AHS) that will support the safe, direct exports of horses from South Africa. South African horse exports have been affected by AHS since the 1960s. The country is currently losing out on investment because of the onerous and expensive process of importing horses from South Africa, therefore, key stakeholders in the industry have been working to find long-term solutions to these challenges.
“Our research findings will enable the export of South Africa’s sought after racehorses, endurance horses, and sports horses. The depreciation of our currency also augurs well for this industry. We are currently exporting horses to the value of around R250 million per year but this can easily increase to R1 billion,” says Prof Ian Sanne of the Wits Health Consortium Equine Health Fund.
Mike de Kock, a top racehorse trainer comments, “South African horses are very competitive on the world stage and our results speak for themselves. Our horses are in demand but we have difficulty with delivery which hurt this industry financially. With efficient export, we could create thousands of jobs and bring in massive foreign investment.”
AHS free zone
In 1997 a small AHS free zone was established in the Western Cape, enabling horse exports directly to the European Union (EU). However, trade has been disrupted several times due to continued outbreaks of AHS in the controlled area.
Mick Goss, a horse breeder from Summerhill Stud says, “South Africa’s victories are proof that our horses are among the best in the world. With our currency as light as it is, there has never been a more favourable prospect for international trade. ”
The Equine Health Fund and Equine Research Centre are working with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to address deficiencies highlighted in previous inspections to facilitate direct trade from SA.
Developments in scientific research
• A recent study by the Equine Research Centre (ERC), University of Pretoria, revealed that AHS outbreaks in the AHS Controlled Area of the Western Cape were caused by transmission of AHS vaccine-derived viruses. These findings led to a restricted vaccination period in the AHS Controlled Area and the strong recommendation that horse owners vaccinate their horses between 1 June and 31 October each year in the rest of the country.
• Advances in diagnostic testing mean that cases of AHS can be confirmed within four hours of samples being submitted (confirmation used to take at least two weeks). The Biological Standards Commission of the World Organisation for Animal Health recently reviewed and accepted the validation dossier for the test developed at the ERC.
• An AusVet Risk Assessment confirmed the likelihood of undetected AHS infection in horses exported from South Africa can be reduced to minuscule by appropriate risk management measures, giving confidence to trading partners to re-examine quarantine procedures, which will boost the export market.