According to findings from a small study conducted in Etosha National Park in northern Namibia, scavengers might not play as key a role in spreading anthrax through wildlife populations as previously assumed.
Wildlife managers currently spend large amounts of money and time to control anthrax outbreaks by preventing scavengers from feeding on infected carcasses.
The effort might be ill spent, according to results published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology
by an international consortium of researchers led by Steven Bellan, an ecologist at The University of Texas at Austin.
Carrion produced by anthrax deaths feeds many scavengers, including jackals, hyena, vultures, marabou storks and occasionally even lions. These scavengers have evolved to be able to digest infected carrion without contracting the infection. Herbivorous animals more vulnerable to anthrax include zebra, springboks, elephants and wildebeest.
It has been thought that scavengers change the environment in which the anthrax bacteria are living by opening herbivores' carcasses, enabling more production of spores — the infectious life stage of the anthrax bacteria.