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Molokai TB Crisis Causes Statewide Concern

By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor

Molokai is currently experiencing the worst outbreak of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in decades, according to officials, and they’re worried it could spread across the state, causing a massive hit to the ranching industry. 

It has already had a huge impact on Molokai’s cattle and pig populations, and officials are still trying to determine how far it’s spread. Of four infected herds from west and central Molokai, more than 100 pigs and 60 cattle have already been depopulated, and testing is ongoing, according to the Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture. More than 400 more cattle have been exposed, Jason Moniz, veterinary program manager for the animal disease control branch of the state DOA, told KHON2 last week. Officials are still making a decision on how many more animals will need to be culled. 

On April 13, Gov. David Ige requested the state legislature add $1 million to the proposed state budget for the HDOA to address the bTB crisis on Molokai. The funds, which Ige said would come from the federal American Rescue Plan Act Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds, would cover three temporary full-time positions for control operations, as well as vehicles and additional operating expenses for bTB control on the island of Molokai.

The recent rapid spread of the disease has prompted a quarantine order of all ungulate animals, except horses, on Molokai to restrict the movement of exposed animals and attempt to control the spread. 

The quarantine order does not regulate hunting of feral and wild deer, pigs, sheep and goats on Molokai, or prohibit the slaughter, harvest, sale or transportation of meat from livestock, wild deer or pigs.

Officials believe the drought conditions have contributed to the rise in bTB infection rate, by weakening animals’ immune systems and bringing closer frequent association between deer and livestock. 

Bovine tuberculosis is caused by the bacterium, Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis), and cattle are the primary host. Other species of animals may also become infected. Although M. bovis can also infect humans, the transmission to humans occurs mainly in countries with high infection rates of M. bovis and poor disease-control programs.

Bovine tuberculosis has been known to occur on Molokai since at least the 1940s. In 1985, all 9,000 cattle on Molokai were culled in an effort to eradicate bTB. Following the depopulation, Hawaii received “bovine tuberculosis free” status from USDA in 1993, which allowed the interstate movement with no restrictions for bTB. 

In 1997, that status was suspended when a 10-year-old cow on the East End of Molokai was found infected with bTB.  The entire herd was culled and after additional testing, the state regained its bovine tuberculosis free status the following year. 

Last June, a new outbreak of bTB was detected in a small beef herd in central Molokai. Testing of a neighboring beef cattle herd found that herd was also infected. The two infected herds were completely depopulated and ranch facilities were cleaned and disinfected. The quarantine orders placed on those herds were subsequently rescinded on Dec. 22, 2021, according to the HDOA.

Then last November, a second detection occurred during routine monitoring when four pigs from a farm in west Molokai were slaughtered. The originating farm also contained cattle and sheep, and depopulation is ongoing. 

More recently, between January and March of this year, more infected herds were found in both the central and west end regions of the island. 

The HDOA held an informational community meeting on Monday, April 18 to provide more updates to farmers and concerned residents. 


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