Rinderpest is an acute, highly contagious, viral disease of cattle, domesticated buffalo and some species of wildlife. The classical form of rinderpest is one of the most lethal diseases of cattle, and can have a catastrophic effect on naïve herds. At one time, epidemics of rinderpest occurred regularly in Eurasia. In 1889, cattle shipped from India carried the rinderpest virus to Africa, causing an epidemic that established the virus on the continent. Initially, approximately 90% of the cattle in sub-Saharan Africa and many sheep and goats died. Wild buffalo, giraffe and wildebeest populations were decimated. The loss of plow animals, herds and hunting resulted in mass starvation, killing a third of the human population in Ethiopia and two-thirds of the Maasai people of Tanzania. The reduction in the number of grazing animals also allowed thickets to form in grasslands. These thickets provided breeding grounds for tsetse flies, resulting in an outbreak of sleeping sickness in humans. Some consider this epidemic to have been the most catastrophic natural disaster ever to affect Africa.
Although the rinderpest virus was eradicated from Europe early in the 20th century, epidemics continued to occur in sub-Saharan Africa and many parts of Asia. In areas where it persisted, rinderpest became the main constraint to livestock production. Several eradication campaigns were conducted after World War II. One international project, started in the 1960s, eradicated or controlled the virus in much of Africa; however, in the 1970s, the termination of vaccination campaigns and surveillance efforts allowed the disease to emerge from two remaining pockets of infection and recolonize large areas. A similarly event happened in Asia in the 1980s. In 1992, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations began the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme, with the goal of complete eradication by the year 2010. As of 2011, rinderpest was declared eradicated. Rinderpest is the first worldwide eradication of an animal pathogen; only one other virus, human smallpox, has ever been completely eliminated from nature.
Iowa State University
Iowa State University Center for Food Security and Public Health, "Rinderpest" (2016). Center for Food Security and Public Health Technical Factsheets. 113.