Fungus in feed kills thousands of Saudi camels

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2007:

RIYADH–Contaminated feed is suspected of killing more than
5,000 of Saudi Arabia’s 862,000 domestic camels in less than a month
from mid-August to mid-September 2007, along with hundreds of sheep
and cattle. The deaths have occurred across most of the southern
half of the country, from Mecca to the Yemen border.
Demand for camel meat fell steeply, the Saudi online
newspaper Arab News reported. Driving the decline was concern that
the toxin might be passed from camel to human, amid rumors of camel
breeders selling sick animals for any price they could get.
A probable effect of a decline in Saudi camel slaughter would be an
increase in slaughter of imported cattle, sheep, and goats, but
since camels are usually not slaughtered if they can work, the net
effect on live transport of other species would be slight.
The camel deaths may have caused more political unrest than
economic impact.
“Breeders are venting their anger at government officials,”
Agence France-Presse reported. The daily newspaper Al-Watan quoted
a camel breeder who alleged that “officials of the Agriculture
Ministry have remained with arms folded despite this unprecedented
disaster,” which other media have described as a “national tragedy.”
“Many owners have attributed the deaths to the bran fed to
the animals recently instead of barley, whose price has been
spiraling,” said Agence France-Presse.

The Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat alleged, “It is the
bran originating from the [state-owned] silos and mills of Khamis
Mushayt,” near the first outbreak of poisoning in Wadi al-Dawasser,
that is responsible for this catastrophe.”
Seeking to contain unrest, King Abdullah ordered that camel
owners be compensated in the amount 4,000 riyals (about $1,066) for
each loss, “but camel owners cited in newspapers thought this was
too little,” said Agence France-Press
Deputy Defense Minister Prince Abdel-Rahman bin Abdel-Aziz
offered 300 of his own camels as replacements to some breeders who
had lost their herds.
The poisoning attacks camels’ neurological functions,
causing them to lose control of their movements. They then suffer a
cerebral hemorrhage and complete paralysis, according to the
business daily Al-Eqtisadiah.
Saudi Agriculture ministry veterinarian Ali Khalaf al-Hassawi
attributed the poisoning, believed to result from a fungus, to “the
wrong methods of stocking bran.”
Agriculture Minister Fahd bin Abdel-Rahman Balghnaim
disclosed the suspected role of the fungus on September 6, 2007.
Testing done in both Saudi Arabia and in France “showed that the
samples [taken from dead camels] contained salinomycin, a compound to
which camels are highly allergic,” Arab News reported on September
9. “Laboratory tests showed that the bran used to feed camels
contained this compound in high concentrations. Another contaminant
found in large quantities in the fodder was Aspergillus clavatus, a
fungus which usually appears in places with high humidity as well as
high temperature.” Mycotoxins produced by the fungus produce the
camels’ neurological symptoms.
“Tests also proved that the samples of bran and those taken
from dead camels contained toxic aluminum in large amounts,” Arab
News said. “The Agriculture Ministry pointed out that most
insecticides available in the market contain aluminum.”
Unknown is whether camel keepers or feed dealers might have
used more than the recommended amounts of insecticide to try to kill
a poorly understood contaminant.
Early in the outbreak, the camel deaths were believed to
have been caused by an unknown infectious disease.
Al-Watan reported that a similar but more regionally
contained rash of camel poisonings occurred in 1995, involving bran
from the same importer. The results of tests undertaken in Germany
and Egypt were never made public, Al-Watan said.

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