Parasite transmission at the wildlife-livestock interface and its implications for management - a pilot study of an African savanna ecosystem

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Institute of Integrative Biology


As Africa's human population continues to grow exponentially, the proportion of the continent's land surface impacted by extensive farming practices is rapidly increasing. Therefore, understanding the ecological dynamics at the interface between agricultural production systems and wilderness areas is becoming ever more important. A main concern in this regard is disease transmission between wild and domestic herbivores. With funding from the International Opportunities Fund, we will establish an international team of experts aiming to tackle these challenges using a multi-disciplinary approach involving the end users. This proposal focuses on the ubiquitous gastro-intestinal helminth infections which are associated with both significant losses to livestock production and concerns about interference with natural ecological processes in areas of conservation value. Specifically, we wish to seize an opportunity to extend a collaboration between UK scientists and expertise in veterinary science at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) which has emerged during current NERC-funded research activities. For this purpose, we will implement a collaborative pilot project which would pave the way for a long-term research partnership. The project will collect data on infection rates in livestock and coexisting wild ungulates from our established savanna study system, allowing us to test our novel theoretical framework for understanding the roles of individual host species in the persistence of selected model parasite species. The wider aim is to obtain proof of concept on the basis of which we can apply for large scale funding. End-user involvement in project design is ensured by hosting scoping workshops. The long-term goal of the research collaboration is to provide recommendations for adaptive management of livestock in natural savanna ecosystems on a scientific basis, thereby simultaneously improving human welfare and supporting biodiversity conservation. The project moreover adds value to our current NERC-funded research on the ecological drivers of mixed-species group formation among savanna herbivores by allowing us to estimate costs from parasite transmission in our multi-layered social network analysis.

Planned Impact

The international collaboration is anticipated to benefit a wide range of stakeholders reliant on ecosystem services in the savanna biome. By improving ecosystem health and nature conservation, the partnership aims to support food production systems and quality of life. Specifically, we expect the project to benefit the following key end-users:
RURAL POOR IN PASTORALIST COMMUNITIES: The livelihoods of pastoralist communities in wildlife-rich savanna ecosystems are ultimately anticipated to benefit due to improved husbandry and productivity of their livestock. Our project will inform policy and practice on natural resource management by establishing the impact of mutual parasite transmission between livestock and wild herbivores. This information is essential for developing guidelines for stocking rates, grazing schemes and veterinary interventions. Not only can control of gastrointestinal parasites improve performance directly by increasing livestock survival, beef production, and milk yield, also tradeoffs between immune defences suggest that a reduction in gastrointestinal parasite infection is often associated with more efficient immune-responses to other parasites, bacterial as well as viral. We will host scoping workshops involving the pastoralist community to ensure end-user involvement in the project design.
PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY: Uncovering the spatiotemporal patterns in cross-species transmission of gastrointestinal parasites in rangelands is critical for the design of effective anthelmintic treatment programmes, both with regards to the timing and selectivity of drug administration. The project thus has the potential to bring significant benefits to the pharmaceutical industry since the development of more effective treatment protocols is expected to increase the demands for anthelmintica in pastoralist communities.
CONSERVATION MANAGERS AND THE ECOTOURISM INDUSTRY: Stakeholders in conservation initiatives in savanna regions will benefit from essential information relevant to tackle the ubiquitous problems related to the increasing encroachment of protected areas by livestock. Livestock grazing in areas of conservation value is associated with concerns about interference with natural ecological processes, and threats posed by disease transmission present a major challenge. We will develop an analytical management tool that supports the re-establishment of natural ecological links within national parks, community-based conservancies, and other protected areas, thereby increasing their attractiveness to visitors and thus promoting increased revenue from ecotourism for the benefit of local livelihoods as well as the wider tourist industry.
ACADEMIC COMMUNITY: The outputs of the project will be of broad relevance to ecologists, epidemiologists, parasitologists, and veterinarians, as well as socioeconomists and conservation scientists working with pastoralist societies. The research partnership is highly synergistic with the collaborators benefitting from each other's complementary expertise and sharing a common interest in establishing a long-term collaboration investigating parasite transmission at the livestock-wildlife interface of multiple land-use areas.
ANIMAL WELFARE: Reducing gastrointestinal parasite infection will improve the welfare of domestic livestock and wild herbivores.
GENERAL PUBLIC: The quality of life for the wider public is enhanced by experiencing savannas as well-protected natural ecosystems, whether directly through tourism or through broadcasts in the mass media.


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Description Kenya Wildlife Service 
Organisation Kenya Wildlife Service
Country Kenya 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is responsible for management of all wildlife in Kenya, and we are currently collecting data on interspecific interactions between savannah herbivores in order to establish the mutual dependency of population performance between species. The data will constitute the basis for derivation of a general model.
Collaborator Contribution We have had several meetings with representatives from KWS both at the HQ in Nairobi and on site in Masai Mara National Reserve, during which we have had constructive discusssions about the design of the project and the format of a future collaborative workshop. KWS have been supportive in providing approvals for research clearance.
Impact N/A
Start Year 2014