By Denene Erasmus, 25 Feb 2010
More than 2 000 ostriches have died in the Klein Karoo, as temperatures soared to more than 50°C in February.
This follows the announcement that ostrich farmers in the drought-stricken southern Cape would not be benefiting from the R26,9 million in drought relief made available by the National Treasury for embattled livestock farmers in the Eden district.
Ostriches are classified by law as game, not as livestock and CEO of the SA Ostrich Chamber of Commerce Anton Kruger said they’ve been trying to have this classification amended for three years. He was confident that the process would be successful in the near future.
Kruger added that while the 2,000 ostriches represented less than 1% of the total number slaughtered in South Africa annually, the loss could be devastating for individual farmers. The dead birds included about 150 breeding ostriches, worth R5,000 each. The remainder were birds aged up to 10 months, which were vulnerable to heat exposure. Ostriches of this age cost about R2,300 a bird, said Kruger, adding that the dead birds were fit only to be minced for dog food.
“This couldn’t have happened at a worst time,” he pointed out. “Three weeks ago, processors in South Africa announced that there would be a 15% reduction in the ostrich meat price paid to farmers because of the strong rand.”
Head veterinarian and manager of research and development at the Klein Karoo International Farms Dr Adriaan Olivier explained that the ostriches had died because the temperature of the air was warmer than their body temperatures of 38°C, so they were unable to cool themselves down. “Every year, a number of ostriches die from heat exposure, but this year it was exceptionally high. I believe we’ve had more consecutive very warm days this February than in the past, which could be part of the reason for the higher mortality rate,” he said, adding that there would’ve been more deaths had farmers not implemented preventative measures. He suggested erecting shade netting or using water sprinklers to cool down the birds.
Fortunately, southern Cape farmers haven’t reported higher-than-normal ostrich fatalities during the heatwave, said Francois de Wet of Mostrich in Mossel Bay.