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Horse Exports from South Africa

    Unveiling of AHS Road signage on the N1, 70kms north of Touws River

    Background information on African Horse Sickness and Horse Exports from South Africa


a. Population

  • 300 000
  • 50% informal sector/rural
  • <10% registered thoroughbreds

b. Employment

  • 100 000 by formal sport horse sector
  • 17 000 by Sport of Horseracing

c. Economic contribution

  • Sport Horse Sector – unknown
  • Sport of Horseracing contribution to GDP – R2.71bn in 2009

d. Trade

  • Global horse export market worth US$4bn/annum
  • South Africa’s market share less than a quarter of 1%
  • South African cost of production is on average 20% of global average


a.Virus description

  • Non-contagious virus transmitted by culicoides midge
  • 9 sero-types
  • High mortality in unprotected horses

AHS in South Africa

  • South Africa deemed endemic to AHS, historically speaking a higher incidence of cases reported in the northern provinces
  • Vaccine (live modified) developed in 1930 at Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute, updated in 1960’s
  • South African legislation: all horses must be vaccinated annually. The AHS Trust’s annual vaccination campaign aims to reduce the number of unvaccinated horses in the poorer communities in strategic areas around the country
  • AHS is seasonal, disappearing during months of low vector activity (winter)
  • Since 1960, only 6 outbreaks of AHS in AHS Controlled Area in Western Cape probably due to climate (hot dry summer), distance from endemic areas (>1000kms) and geographical barriers (mountain range + Atlantic and Indian Oceans)


a. Government to Government

Whilst the private sector drives many processes, ultimately trade negotiations take place between Governments.

b. OIE (World Organisation For Animal Health)

  • Intergovernmental organisation established in 1924
  • Currently 178 members (South Africa represented by Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – DAFF)
  • Mandated by WTO
  • Objective: to safeguard world trade by publishing health standards (guidelines) for international trade in animals and animal products
  • AHS is one of 11 equine diseases listed by OIE as dangerous
  • Last revision in 2008
  • Next revision in 2012

c. Protocol

  • Based on OIE guidelines
  • Specific import conditions agreed by trading partners
  • Import conditions written into Health Certificate


a. 97/10/EC

  • Based on principles written into 1995 version of OIE AHS Code Chapter
  • Regionalisation: Western Cape declared as AHS Controlled Area which is made up of Free Zone, Surveillance Zone (50km radius from Free Zone) and Protection Zone (100km radius from Surveillance Zone)
  • Ratified by European Commission in 1997

b. Conditions for export from AHS Free Zone

  • AHS Controlled Area declared free of AHS
  • 60 days residency in AHS Free Zone
  • Last 40 days in vector-protected pre-export quarantine
  • Exercise during vector-safe time of day (2hrs after sunrise to 2hrs before sunset)
  • Testing

c. Consequence of outbreak of AHS in AHS Controlled Area

  • If outbreak occurred within 150kms of quarantine station, loss of AHS Free Status and State Veterinary officer unable to certify export
  • Period of suspension: 12 months according to 2008 version of OIE AHS Code Note: EU legislation is out of date and suspension remains 24 months (negotiable)


Close to 1000 horses have been exported from Kenilworth Quarantine Station since 1997. The following is a brief history of the delivery of South African horses to EU/HK and UAE:

  • Pre-1950’s over 350 000 horses exported from South Africa
  • In 1958 the outbreak of AHS in Middle East led to embargo on horse exports from Africa. The exception was USA which accepted horses into a vector-protected quarantine facility in New York for 60 days post arrival.
  • In January 1997 the EU ratified the South African export protocol which permitted the import of horses from South Africa’s AHS Controlled Area (part of which is the AHS Free Zone) in the Western Cape.
  • In April 1997, the HK Government adopted the protocol which allowed London News direct entry to HK to compete in the Gr.2 QEII Stakes and win.
  • In 1999, an outbreak of AHS occurred in Stellenbosch (in the AHS Controlled Area). This automatically led to a two year suspension of imports from South Africa by the EU and other trading partners including HK.
  • In 2001, the EU and other trading partners including HK lifted the suspension and direct imports to EU/HK resumed.
  • In 2003, the UAE adopted the protocol which allowed direct exports from Cape Town to Dubai. 100 horses (3 shipments) were exported on this basis.
  • In February 2004, the second outbreak of AHS occurred in Stellenbosch which resulted in another two year suspension.
  • In April 2006, an international workshop was hosted by Racing SA which included representatives from EU, HK and UAE. Both UAE and HK suggested the development of a new diagnostic test would assist with future protocols.
  • In October 2006, the EU lifted the suspension and direct imports to the EU resumed. However, in contrast to the decision by the HK Government to accept direct imports in 1997 and 2001, and the UAE in 2003, this time they insisted on South African horses spending an additional 30 days in Europe pre-entry to HK and UAE respectively. At the time, it was suggested that there was too much risk to the Olympic Games (which South Africa accepted) and the Dubai International Racing Carnival was too valuable.
  • In February 2011, the Mamre outbreak led to the temporary suspension of exports to the EU and other trading partners.
  • In June 2011, the SA Veterinary Services applied to UAE, Singapore and Malaysia for direct shipments from AHS Infected Country (see point 8)


Following international workshop with South Africa’s major trading partners including EU, HK and UAE in 2006, the following strategy was presented to the Board of Racing South Africa for approval (UPDATED 2010/11):

a. Regulatory

Given that countries wishing to trade in animals and animal products are increasingly bound by the OIE, the proposed changes to the AHS Code will fundamentally change the way in which South Africa is able to negotiate protocols with its trading partners.  The new AHS Code is expected to be adopted at the 2012 OIE General Assembly and will include the following changes:

  • Official OIE recognition of AHS
  • South Africa to define own control measures
  • Pre-export quarantine to be significantly reduced with agent identification testing (RT PCR)
  • If, in the case of an outbreak, a containment zone is accepted by the OIE, it will be possible to resume exporting 80 days after the last case of AHS is confirmed.

b. Science


The validation by the OIE of the RT PCR is expected to provide the safety mechanism that the UAE and HK have been seeking to allow direct imports to be reinstated. Secondly, used in conjunction with the proposed changes to the OIE AHS Code, the pre-export quarantine period could be reduced to as little as 14 days.

  • AHS Recombinant Vaccine

In respect of benefits, it firstly improves the protection of horses locally as it offers better protection against all 9 serotypes and is easier to administer as it is inactivated.

In respect of negotiating protocols and the resultant impact on trade, the ultimate benefit of the new vaccine is that it provides additional safety for importing countries should they incur an outbreak of AHS. Given the ability to differentiate between vaccine and field virus, the recombinant vaccine (DIVA) also assists in being able to declare freedom following an outbreak – a recent example was the Australian outbreak of Equine Influenza which was declared over after a year.

c. Logistics

  • Phase I

To firstly introduce competition to the shipping environment and, secondly to investigate alternative transport solutions that allowed the shipping of low numbers of horses to be viable out of Cape Town. The first objective was achieved when Racing SA acted as airline broker and was able to offer freight space to shipping agents previously excluded from Cape Town shipments. The second was achieved by diverting scheduled freighters into Cape Town and co-loading the export horses with other freight originating in Cape Town and en route to Europe.

  • Phase II – JV

The current Government quarantine system is fragmented, the infrastructure under-developed, facilities inadequate. Racing SA has developed a management model at Kenilworth Quarantine Station which could be replicated at the import quarantines currently owned and managed by the State.

By assisting with a management structure to oversee all quarantines, booking systems and SOP’s could be standardized, personnel properly trained and economies of scale realized.

With co-operation, flights could be properly co-ordinated to improve the economics of horse movements in and out of the country. From a business perspective, this would form the basis of a joint venture with Government and the private sector. This is work in progress.

d. Support for SA Veterinary Services

  • Import Export Working Group

The Import Export Working Group was formed in response to the de-registration of the SA Horse Import & Export Council. It provides veterinary and scientific support to the South African Veterinary Services and assists Government to improve the South African Export Protocol. The broader aim is to develop a sustainable delivery system for the movement of horses in and out of South Africa. The working group meets on a monthly basis and is Chaired by Racing SA’s veterinary liaison officer, Dr Beverley Zietsman.

  • Animal Health Forum

The Animal Health Forum (AHF) was created from all spheres of the Animal Health and Production Industry representative bodies currently in existence in South Africa.

The purpose of the establishment of this forum is to assist Government to seek solutions to disease control and surveillance problems currently being faced by the State Veterinary Services and to submit a report with recommendations to address the situation. Racing South Africa represents the greater equestrian industry and Dr Beverley Zietsman is our representative.

  • Build Laboratory Capacity

Disease surveillance and export certification is dependent on laboratory testing and accreditation. Utilizing existing laboratory infrastructures both in the private and state sectors, the aim is to improve capacity and reliability of as many components of the export procedure as possible which ultimately reduces risk.

e. AHS Controlled Area

  • Signage

Erection of signage on 4 major routes at boundary of AHS Controlled Area.

  • Census

Register all equines and equine holdings in the Free and Surveillance Zones, micro-chip and ID horses with strategic surveillance testing.

  • Intensification of protection of AHS Controlled Area

In conjunction with relevant authorities, the aim would be to improve control of horse movements into the AHS Controlled Area and to prevent the introduction of AHSV.

  • Development of online Movement Permit system

Transfer control to Western Cape Veterinary Authority and to issue permits electronically.


    1. First case – 26 February
    2. Situation – Mamre (60kms, north west of Cape Town)
    3. Last case – 3 May
    4. South African State Veterinary office declares outbreak over: 23 June 2011


In response to the temporary (12 months) embargo placed on South African horse exports, in June 2011 the South African Veterinary Services (DAFF), submitted applications to the UAE, Singapore and Malaysia (based on the 2008 version of the OIE AHS Code) with the offer of EQUIVALENCE to be able to export from the AHS Free Zone, whilst our AHS Free status was no longer in place. In summary the equivalence offered was the following:

  • Export during the low risk time of the year (80 days after last case – from August 2011)
  • Export from AHS Free Zone
  • Continuous residence in vector proof quarantine station
  • Limited exercise under vector protection
  • Additional testing including RT PCR (in process of OIE validation)

South Africa has maintained a totally transparent and responsible approach in respect of reporting and managing outbreaks of AHS in the AHS Controlled Area. The following should be noted:

  • South Africa has never exported AHS to other parts of the world
  • There has never been an outbreak of AHS in the AHS Free Zone
  • AHS is seasonal and during the period of low vector activity (South African winter), the threat of virus disappears until the start of the new high risk season (summer months). Therefore, during winter, the unlikely risk of introducing AHS to importing countries is the same as when the AHS Controlled Area is deemed free.



Once the mandatory period of suspension is over (May 2012), South Africa will apply to the OIE to have its AHS Free Status re-instated. Thereafter, direct negotiations will commence with our trading partners to resume direct shipments from Kenilworth Quarantine Station in Cape Town.