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28th April 2005Horse Sickness
By Peter Quantrill
Horse sickness led to the serious demise of animals in both Divisions during the Second Invasion of Zululand. Death usually occurred within days.
It may be of interest to note that currently Horse sickness has now reached epidemic proportions in Kwa Zulu Natal.Over 500 horses have been lost in the Ladysmith area alone.
The cause, uncertain in 1879, is due to the bite of midges that move down south from Zimbabwe and Mozambique with the rainfall and are attracted to damp areas.It is still uncertain what species act as a carrier for the midges. The disease affects the lungs and heart of the animal; temperatures rise to over 39 degrees and abnormal swelling occurs in the head, particularly above the eyes. Breathing difficulties follow together with increased respiration and heart rate. Death follows rapidly.
Such was the lot of both Basuto and UK shipped animals during 1879. Those few that survived were known as " salted " and commanded a considerable price premium.
Current measures to combat the disease include vaccination and keeping the animals in stables well before sunset and only letting them out well after sunrise, a safety precaution quite unknown and alien to the likes of Buller and Marshall. A hardy life indeed for horses that, in the latter half of the campaign, were kept on half rations.