Living with disease? Biosecurity and avian influenza in ostriches


This paper is about an avian influenza outbreak in South Africa’s commercial ostrich industry. The outbreak was managed according to international best practice and led to the destruction of 30,000 ostriches in two of South Africa’s provinces. However, the industry has a long history of managing low pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks in a different way. We use the 2004 outbreak and earlier approaches to managing disease to shed light on recent debates on how we might live differently with livestock diseases. The paper is based on in-depth interviews with farmers, veterinarians, scientists and agriculture officials.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2



Bovine spongiform encephalopathy


Department of Agriculture


Joint Operations Centre


Klein Karoo Cooperative


National Agricultural Marketing Council


South Africa National Department of Agriculture


World Organisation for Animal Health


  1. Abolnik, C. 2007. Molecular epidemiology of Newcastle disease and avian influenza in South Africa. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Pretoria.

  2. Abolnik, C., S. Bisschop, T. Gerdes, A. Olivier, and R. Horner. 2007. Outbreaks of avian influenza H6N2 viruses in chickens arose by a reassortment of H6N8 and H9N2 ostrich viruses. Virus Genes 34: 37–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Abolnik, C., E. Cornelius, S.P.R. Bisschop, M. Romito, and D. Verwoerd. 2006. Phylogenetic analyses of genes from South African LPAI viruses isolated in 2004 from wild aquatic birds suggests introduction by Eurasian migrants. Developments in Biologicals 124: 189–199.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Akol, G.W., V.E. Rozani, R. Horner, A. Abolnik, M. Romito, R. Manvell, T. Gerdes, J. Kitching, L. Mrwebi, J.H. van Niekerk, I. Lwanga-Iga, and M.R. Zondi. 2006. An outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in ostriches in South Africa, Proceedings of the 3rd South African Veterinary and Paraveterinary Congress 2006, Durban, South Africa.

  5. Allwright, D.M., W.P. Burger, A. Geyer, and A.W. Terblanche. 1993. Isolation of avian influenza: A virus from ostriches (Struthio camelus). Avian Pathology 22: 59–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Allwright, D. 1996. Viruses encountered in intensively reared ostriches in Southern Africa. In Improving our understanding of ratites in a farming environment, ed. D.C. Deeming, 27–29. Conference Proceedings, University of Manchester, March 1996.

  7. Ballard, R. 2001. A preliminary study of the bovine leather value chain in South Africa, CSDS Research Report #40, Industrial Restructuring Project, School of Development Studies, University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, Durban, South Africa.

  8. Bickerstaff, K., and P. Simmons. 2004. The right tool for the job? Modeling, spatial relationships, and styles of scientific practice in the UK foot and mouth crisis. Environment and Planning D 22: 393–412.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bingham, N., and S. Hinchliffe. 2008. Mapping the multiplicities of biosecurity. In Biosecurity interventions: Global health and security in question, ed. A. Lakoff, and S.J. Collier, 172–193. New York, NY: Columbia University.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Braun, B. 2007. Biopolitics and the molecularization of life. Cultural Geographies 14: 6–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Callon, M. 1998. An essay on framing and overflowing: Economic externalities revisited by sociology. In The laws of the markets, ed. M. Callon, 244–269. London: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Capua, I., F. Mutinelli, M. Bozza, C. Terregino, and G. Cattoli. 2000. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (H7N1) in ostriches (Struthio camelus). Avian Pathology 29: 643–646.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Clavijo, A., J. Riva, and J. Pasick. 2003. Pathogenicity of a ratite-origin influenza A H5 virus in ostriches (Struthio camelus). Avian Diseases 47: 1203–1207.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Cooper, R.G. 1999. Ostrich meat, an important product of the ostrich industry: A southern African perspective. World’s Poultry Science Journal 55: 389–402.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Cooper, R.G. 2001. Ostrich (Struthio camelus var. domesticus) skin and leather: A review focused on southern Africa. World’s Poultry Science Journal 57: 157–178.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Cooper, R.G., J.O. Horbanczuk, and N. Fujihara. 2004. Viral diseases of the ostrich. Animal Science Journal 75: 89–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. De Vynck, D. 2004: SA ostrich farmers to lose R50 m a month. Business Report, 13 October 2004.

  18. DEFRA. 2004. Highly pathogenic avian influenza in ostriches in South Africa. Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs, London, United Kingdom.

  19. Donaldson, A., P. Lowe, and N. Ward. 2002. Virus-crisis-institutional change: The foot and mouth actor network and the governance of rural affairs in the UK. Sociologia Ruralis 42(3): 201–214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Donaldson, A. 2008. Biosecurity after the event: Risk politics and animal disease. Environment and Planning A 40(7): 1552–1567.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Enticott, G. 2008. The spaces of biosecurity: Prescribing and negotiating solutions to bovine tuberculosis. Environment and Planning A 40: 1568–1582.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. FAO 2004. FAO recommendations on the prevention, control and eradication of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in Asia. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization.

  23. FAO 2008. Biosecurity for highly pathogenic avian influenza: Issues and options, FAO Animal Production and Health Paper, # 165. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization, OIE and World Bank.

  24. Hanekom, F. 2002. Overview of the South African ostrich industry 2002, unpublished paper.

  25. Hinchliffe, S. 2001. Indeterminacy in-decisions—Science, policy and politics in the BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) crisis. Transactions Institute of British Geographers 26: 182–204.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Hinchliffe, S. 2007. Geographies of Nature. London: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Hinchliffe, S., and N. Bingham. 2008. Securing life: The emerging practices of biosecurity. Environment and Planning A 40: 1534–1551.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Hinchliffe, S., G. Endicott, and N. Bingham. 2008. Biosecurity: Spaces, practices and boundaries. Environment and Planning A 40: 1528–1533.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Horner, R.F. and A.C.E. Pienaar. 2005. Contingency plan in case of an outbreak of notifiable avian influenza (NAI), In Poultry in South Africa, Directorate of Animal Health, Pretoria, South Africa.

  30. Huchzemeyer, F.W. 2002. Diseases of farmed crocodiles and ostriches. Revue Scientifique et Technique (OIE) 21(2): 265–276.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Jack, M. 2004. Humane way found to kill diseased ostriches, The Herald, Port Elizabeth, 6 August 2004.

  32. Jonker, S. 2008. Review of the global ostrich industry March 2008. Unpublished report, Ostrich Products South Africa, Oudtshoorn, South Africa.

  33. Keller, B. 1993. Oudtshoorn Journal: The ostrich cartel could be staring at disaster, The New York Times, September 15th 1993.

  34. Kruger, A. 2008. A profile of the South African ostrich industry, Ostrich Business Chamber, Oudtshoorn, South Africa.

  35. Law, J. 2006. Disaster in agriculture: Or foot and mouth mobilities. Environment and Planning A 38: 227–239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Law, J., and A. Mol. 2008. Globalisation in practice: On the politics of boiling pigswill. Geoforum 39: 133–143.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Manvell, R., K. Frost, and D.J. Alexander. 1996. Characterisation of Newcastle disease and avian influenza viruses from ratites submitted to the International Reference Laboratory, In Improving our understanding of ratites in a farming environment, ed. D.C. Deeming, 34–38. Conference Proceedings, University of Manchester, March 1996.

  38. Manvell, R.J., P.H. Jorgensen, O.L. Nielsen, and D.J. Alexander. 1998. Experimental assessment of the pathogenicity of two avian influenza A H5 viruses in ostrich chicks (Struthio camelus) and chickens. Avian Pathology 27: 400–404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Matthewson, S. 2004a. Strict curbs to prevent new ostrich virus crisis, The Herald, Port Elizabeth, 27 October 2004.

  40. Matthewson, S. 2004b. More ostriches culled in avian flu war, The Herald, Port Elizabeth, 15 September 2004.

  41. Matthewson, S. 2004c. Meat sales as steady as ever before, The Herald, Port Elizabeth, 15 August 2004.

  42. Matthewson, S. 2004d. East Cape bird flu spreads to new farm, The Herald, Port Elizabeth, 17 August 2004.

  43. Mutinelli, F., I. Capua, C. Terregino, and G. Cattoli. 2003. Clinical, gross, and microscopic findings in different avian species naturally infected during the H7N1 low and high pathogenicity avian influenza epidemics in Italy during 1999 and 2000. Avian Diseases 47: 844–848.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. NAMC. 2003. Report on the investigation into the effect of deregulation on the South African ostrich industry, Report of the Section 7 Committee, National Agricultural Marketing Council, South Africa.

  45. Nduru, M. 2004. No respite for exporters of ostrich products, Mail and Guardian, 15 October 2004, Johannesburg.

  46. Nerlich, B. 2004. War on foot and mouth disease in the UK, 2001: Towards a cultural understanding of agriculture. Agriculture and Human Values 21: 15–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. OIE. 2006. Highly pathogenic avian influenza in Zimbabwe, World Animal Health Information Database, Geneva.

  48. Olivier, A.J. 2006. Ecology and epidemiology of avian influenza in ostriches. Developmental Biologicals 124: 51–57.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Ostrich Business Chamber. 2008. Biosecurity guidelines for the ostrich industry. Accessed 15 November 2008.

  50. Oudtshoorn Municipality. 2005. Economic profile, Oudtshoorn Municipality, South Africa.

  51. Panigrahy, B., D.A. Senne, and J.E. Pearson. 1995. Presence of avian influenza virus (AIV) subtypes H5N2 and H7N1 in Emus and Rheas: Virus isolation and serological findings. Avian Diseases 39: 64–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Pfitzer, S., D.J. Verwoerd, G.H. Gerdes, A.E. Labuschagne, A. Erasmus, R.J. Manvell, and Ch. Grund. 2000. Newcastle disease and avian influenza: A virus in wild waterfowl in South Africa. Avian Diseases 44: 655–660.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Sinclair, M., G.K. Bruckner, and J. Kotze. 2006a. Avian influenza in ostriches: Epidemiological investigation in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Elsenburg Journal 3: 1–3.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Sinclair, M., G.K. Bruckner, and J. Kotze. 2006b. Avian influenza in ostriches: Epidemiological investigation in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Veterinaria Italiana 42(2): 69–76.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Verwoerd, D.J. 2000. Ostrich diseases. Revue Scientifique et Technique 19: 638–661.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Woods, A. 2004. The construction of an animal plague: Foot and mouth disease in nineteenth-century Britain. Social History of Medicine 17(1): 23–39.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Charles Mather.

Additional information

This article represents a contribution to an emerging and critical literature on biosecurity.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Mather, C., Marshall, A. Living with disease? Biosecurity and avian influenza in ostriches. Agric Hum Values 28, 153–165 (2011).

Download citation


  • Animal disease
  • Avian influenza
  • Living with disease
  • Ostriches
  • South Africa