Original Research

Pathological findings in African buffaloes (Syncerus caffer) in South Africa

Daniel B. Woodburn, Johan Steyl, Elizabeth C. du Plessis, Rick D. Last, Bjorn Reininghaus, Emily P. Mitchell
Journal of the South African Veterinary Association | Vol 92 | a2117 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/jsava.v92i0.2117 | © 2021 Daniel B Woodburn, Johan Steyl, Elizabeth C du Plessis, Rick D Last, Bjorn Reininghaus, Emily P. Mitchell | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 September 2020 | Published: 17 August 2021

About the author(s)

Daniel B. Woodburn, Department of Pathobiology, Zoological Pathology Program, University of Illinois, Illinois, United States
Johan Steyl, Department of Paraclinical Sciences and Centre for Wildlife Veterinary Studies, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort, South Africa
Elizabeth C. du Plessis, IDEXX Laboratories, Johannesburg, South Africa
Rick D. Last, Vetdiagnostix, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Bjorn Reininghaus, Mpumulanga Veterinary Services, Nelspruit, South Africa
Emily P. Mitchell, Department of Paraclinical Sciences and Centre for Wildlife Veterinary Studies, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort, South Africa; and, National Zoological Garden, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa


The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is an iconic species of South African megafauna. As the farmed buffalo population expands, the potential impacts on population health and disease transmission warrant investigation. A retrospective study of skin biopsy and necropsy samples from 429 animals was performed to assess the spectrum of conditions seen in buffaloes in South Africa. Determination of the cause of death (or euthanasia) could not be made in 33.1% (136/411) of the necropsy cases submitted due to autolysis or the absence of significant lesions in the samples submitted. Infectious and parasitic diseases accounted for 53.5% (147/275) of adult fatal cases and non-infectious conditions accounted for 34.9% (96/275). Abortions and neonatal deaths made up 11.6% (32/275) of necropsy cases. Rift Valley fever, bovine viral diarrhoea, malignant catarrhal fever, tuberculosis, bacterial pneumonia, anaesthetic deaths, cachexia and hepatotoxic lesions were the most common causes of death. The range of infectious, parasitic and non-infectious diseases to which African buffaloes were susceptible was largely similar to diseases in domestic cattle which supports concerns regarding disease transmission between the two species. The similarity between diseases experienced in both species will assist wildlife veterinarians in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases in captive African buffaloes. The present study likely does not represent accurate disease prevalence data within the source population of buffaloes, and diseases such as anthrax, brucellosis and foot and mouth disease are under-represented in this study. Hepatic ductal plate abnormalities and haemorrhagic septicaemia have not, to our knowledge, been previously reported in African buffaloes.


African buffalo; Syncerus caffer; disease; pathology; wildlife veterinarians


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