x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Goodbye, vile pest

Livestock's biggest killer is soon set to be a thing of the past.

What smallpox did to humankind, rinderpest did to cattle. The virus has killed uncounted millions of livestock around the globe.

Now rinderpest has gone the way of smallpox. On June 28, experts at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation will declare the virus extinct in the wild. This is both a huge scientific achievement and a tribute to the hardworking biological teams of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (Grep).

Founded in 1994, Grep advanced from one ecosystem to another, eradicating the disease and eliminating further sources of infection. Throughout the Gulf region, rinderpest was one of the major threats to livestock, and the UAE was only officially declared free of the disease last year.

Rinderpest (German for "cattle plague") is an ancient disease. It dates back thousands of years to Asia, reaching Egypt in 3,000 BC and periodically wiping out herds in Europe throughout the Middle Ages. In 1887, it reached the Horn of Africa, perhaps killing as many as 90 per cent of the cattle in Africa.

Throughout the last century, individual countries had launched vigorous campaigns against rinderpest. But it would always return via infection from other nations. Only united action around the globe finally killed the killer. It shows what we humans can do - sometimes.