UP’s Exceptional Young Researcher of 2014 delivers findings to an international audience

Posted on November 10, 2014

Prof Darryn Knobel is providing great insight into the control and foreseeable elimination of rabies. He recently presented his work at the 39th World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Congress held in Cape Town. Prof Knobel leads UP’s Faculty of Veterinary Science’s research group on dog population ecology and rabies epidemiology, which studies the ecology of owned, free-roaming dog populations in resource-constrained communities, particularly at wildlife interfaces. The group's aim is to better understand the interactions between dog population dynamics and rabies control, as well as other aspects of dog health and welfare.

In 2014, UP selected Prof Knobel as an Exceptional Young Researcher for his groundbreaking research into the epidemiology and the impact of infectious diseases on populations at human/domestic animal/wildlife interfaces in Southern Africa.

‘I was extremely honoured to receive an Exceptional Young Researcher award from UP. To have my work on the epidemiology and impact of infectious diseases in this system recognised and rewarded by UP adds to my enthusiasm and determination to have a positive impact on livelihoods and on the health of people, their animals and the ecosystems they share with wildlife,’ said Prof Knobel.

An important aspect of his research is that it has determined the vaccination thresholds required to control and eventually eliminate rabies.

According to Prof Knobel, ‘Rabies is one … disease that exemplifies the need to adopt a multidisciplinary One-Health approach to management and control. Successful control and eventual elimination of dog rabies, and of associated human deaths, through such an approach is achievable in the region, but will require evidence-based strategies developed through research in owned, free-roaming dog populations in underserved communities where the burden of rabies is greatest.’

One Health is an international initiative that focuses on animal and human health throughout the world, highlighting the importance of the health of ecosystems to that of humans and animals. This concept is defined as the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment. It necessitates multifaceted and interdisciplinary networking and collaboration. UP is the only tertiary institution with a full set of faculties that would allow the national and regional development of the concept of One Health within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), with a focus on the animal/human/ecosystem interface.

Many unnecessary deaths in rural areas occur as a result of people being bitten by rabid dogs. Sadly, large numbers of dogs are then beaten or killed, regardless of whether they were the culprits or not. Many of these dogs do not have rabies and are not strays – they are actually owned, cared for and belong to families that value them.

With this in mind, Prof Knobel took the opportunity at this year’s WSAVA Congress to launch his very innovative method of identifying dogs in rural impoverished communities in South Africa that have been vaccinated against rabies. It is hoped that this method will not only prevent animal abuse, but will also contribute to valuable rabies research. Recyclable lanyards, which are aplenty at conferences, are converted into collars for vaccinated dogs in such communities. The research group will monitor these collared dogs to assess the effectiveness of this marking method in the reduction of rabies, and the community will be made aware of the purpose of the collars so that unnecessary killings can be prevented.

Prof Knobel says that UP’s recognition of his work has encouraged and enthused him to take his research forward. 

- Author Louise de Bruin

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