Help! My cow has been bewitched


I had just finished my Fourth Form and wasn’t sure I would secure a place at vet school when Lazaro’s only cow suffered a “funny disease”.

I got interested because I had wished to study vet medicine in the near future. Although Lazaro thought otherwise, the disease was killer rabies shared between man and animals – zoonotic and mainly spread by infected dogs (rabid dogs).

Lazaro’s cow had gone nuts and made strange sounds. Though not on heat, the animal produced lots of saliva but couldn’t swallow feeds and walked with an awkward gait. The animal was normally calm but now it was aggressive and reacted to light and sounds. The cow sometimes ran away from people and at other times ran after them. According to Lazaro, these signs pointed to one thing – his animal had been bewitched.

He had refused to trace it back to a stray dog bite.

This stray dog had held the entire Lung’anyiro village at ransom for a week. It had been spotted by at least three other people within the neighbourhood. Like the cow, it also behaved in a funnyway.

Evil hand to blame


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Everyone was on the lookout and whenever it was spotted, people shouted it just disappeared into the sugar cane plantations nearby.

That only Lazaro’s cow had been bitten fanned his belief  that there must be some evil hand in his predicament.

After attacking Lazaro’s animal,the dog disappeared never to be seen again. Indigenous knowledge has it that bewitched animals aren’t to be touched and when Lazaro’s cow died, it was burnt to exorcise the evil spell and that is how rabies was controlled effectively.

In many agricultural extension programmes, such effective indigenous knowledge is never considered as an intervention despite its potency.

While villagers believe in devouring carcasses from suspect animals despite veterinary doctors warning, whenever I recall this particular case I marvel at the power of indigenous knowledge.

When I joined Vet School and Prof Kitala was teaching us about rabies which is a killer viral disease that affects all warm-blooded mammals including man, I understood it from a firsthand experience.

Rabies affects the central nervous system hence the clinical signs. The virus is present in the saliva of infected animals and is spread through contact with open wounds or mucuos membranes.


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Cows infected with rabies will have difficulties swallowing and some farmers are normally tempted to put their hand inside the cow’s mouth to find out if there is any obstruction. This is a risky step that can result in infection.

Dog mediated rabies is still a major problem in Kenya. The disease has a case fatality of almost 100 per cent (this means that once infected chances of recovery are very slim)

Routine vaccination of dogs which are the main transmitters of the disease through their bites is being promoted by the World Health Organisation and the Organisation for Animal Health.

(The writer is a veterinary doctor working with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council -KENTTEC)

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