Prize ostriches wiped out by flu
A flock of famous ostriches has been slaughtered after contracting avian flu, an epidemic that is ravaging farms in the Little Karoo.
The trained ostriches were a tourist attraction at the Highgate farm outside Oudtshoorn where visitors have been riding the birds for more than 80 years.
Farm owner Arenhold Hooper said he had laid off 39 staff since his flock was culled last month.
''I'm an ostrich farmer without ostriches," he said, adding that he was one of 18 farms of over 300 to test positive for avian flu. More farms have since tested positive.
Hooper has tried unsuccessfully to get financial compensation for the loss of the trained ostriches.
He said it was the first time he had no birds in five generations at the family-run farm.
So far 25 000 ostriches have been culled since the first reported case of avian flu in April, with further losses expected as the epidemic spreads. The ostrich industry, which incorporates meat, skin products and tourism, is worth about R2-billion annually and supports about 20 000 jobs.
The epidemic also threatens the world's premier ostrich research farm outside Oudtshoorn, home to an artificial breeding programme managed by the Western Cape Department of Agriculture.
"It is not looking good for the ostrich industry at the moment," said Western Cape agriculture spokesman Wouter Kriel.
The government may declare the ostrich industry a disaster and thereby qualify it for financial assistance, Kriel said.
Anton Kruger, CEO of the SA Ostrich Business Chamber, said the outbreak was particularly serious due to drought conditions, economic recession and the fact that the flu was reported "in the heart of the industry where about 70% of production is situated".