TATOLI verified at least 20 pigs discarded below a bridge near Los Palos, in Lautem District (Image/Robert Baird)

LOS PALOS, 16 December, 2019 (TATOLI) — The discarding of dozens of African Swine Fever-infected pigs in a river in Lautem district has prompted health and biosecurity concerns, as the number of pigs killed by the virus in the country’s east climbs.

TATOLI has confirmed reports the animals, along with sacks of pork products, were discarded in a river at Trisula, near Los Palos, as early as October.

Authorities advise farmers to bury or burn the remains of ASF-infected animals, as uncovered carcasses can easily spread the virus.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries’ (Tetum: MAP) Chief Veterinary Officer for Lautem district, Dr Zito Guimarães, said it was concerning.

“[When] the community discards their dead pigs carelessly, in waterways or on the land, this is affecting the environment and health of everyone,” he said.

Dr Guimarães said he had asked the “local authorities” to remove the dead animals. Village chief Sidalio Freitas did not respond to questions from TATOLI before deadline.

There is also no penalty in Timor-Leste for dumping infected animals, according to MAP’s Lautem Director, Edmundo da Costa.

ASF is harmless to humans, but Alberto da Costa from the Ministry of Health said locals consuming water from any river affected by decomposing animals could contract Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI), skin irritations and diarrhoea.

“I feel upset that the community [has] thrown the dead pigs into the river, because it can have big impacts” on health, he said.

Economic Impact

ASF kills more than 80 percent of the pigs it infects, with no cure and no vaccine.

Dr Guimarães confirmed 1,664 pigs have died in his district this year; around 10 per cent of the 16,000 recorded deaths across Timor-Leste. But the figures from MAP account only for deaths that are officially reported.

Lautem District pig farmer, Olinda Ribiero Moniz (R) lost 7 pigs to suspected African Swine Fever (Image/Florencio Ximines)

Farmer Olinda Ribiero Moniz, from the nearby Bauro village, lost seven adult pigs to suspected swine fever in early December.

“I feel sad because all of these pigs died all of a sudden…I fed them one morning… [but] in the evening they were sick, and by the next morning they had died,” Ms Monis said.

She buried the animals in her backyard, but did not report the deaths to MAP officials. Ms Moniz said she’s carefully watching her remaining animals for symptoms of ASF, which can include high fever, loss of appetite, redness, vomiting and diarrhoea, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

One healthy adult pig can fetch US $500-600, and the animals are often used as a de-facto reserve currency, to pay debts or wedding dowries. The median monthly income across all of Timor-Leste is around US $170, according to the World Bank.

“It’s having a direct impact on people’s budgets,” MAP’s Lautem Director, Edmundo da Costa, told TATOLI. He said the number of pig deaths in the district increased from 439 in September and October, to 1,225 in November.

Leaflets like this have been distributed throughout Timor in Tetum and English (Image/MAP)

Travel ban and the official response

Laboratory tests first confirmed an outbreak of African Swine Fever in Dili on September 26. Soon after the first outbreak, the government formed a taskforce comprised of staff from MAP, customs, Quarantine, Border PatrolPolice, Immigration, and the Food Safety Authority (AIFAESA).

MAP also implemented a ban on moving pigs and pork products between districts. In Lautem, Dr Zito Guimarães said technical and veterinary staff are now in place in all 16 municipalities, and MAP plans to establish new clinics in Tutuala and Luro.

But he said they’re yet to receive adequate medicinal supplies from the national MAP office in Dili.

Earlier this month officials brought in 150 pigs from West Timor in Indonesia to help rebuild the country’s herd, giving assurances the animals were thoroughly screened for ASF.

Journalist: Florencio Miranda Ximenes; Robert Baird

Editors: Maria Auxiliadora; Robert Baird

Translation: Nelia Borges

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