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Wild boar in DMZ may point to source of ASF

Oct 04,2019
The government found a wild boar infected with the African swine fever (ASF), raising the likelihood that the outbreak in South Korea was started by a wild boar from North Korea.

The South Korean Ministry of Environment said Thursday a wild boar found dead in the demilitarized zone in Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi, was confirmed to have been infected with the virus.

The boar was found roughly 1.4 kilometers (0.87 miles) from South Korean fences in the DMZ.

The ministry said the boar’s corpse did not show any sign of being attacked by another animal and had not decomposed, indicating that its death was recent.

A nearby South Korean military base discovered the boar’s corpse and sent it to the National Institute of Environmental Research for testing.

The government earlier found four dead wild boars in the DMZ, but two tested negative for ASF and two were too decomposed to determine their cause of death.

The government has downplayed the possibility of the virus being transmitted from North Korea.

In May, North Korea was badly affected by the spread of the virus.

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told lawmakers during a National Assembly audit hearing on Thursday that Seoul’s military alert system was so tight that wild boars from North Korea could not penetrate it.

“While some of the fences could have collapsed in [recent] typhoons, it is not to the point that would allow wild boars from North Korea to pass through,” Jeong said.

During a National Assembly hearing on Wednesday, Environment Minister Cho Myung-rae said that the virus could have come from an unexpected means of transmission.

“One of the patterns is that the virus spread through the water route of the Imjin River,” said Cho. “We will consider investigating that the virus spread through an unexpected medium like contaminated water from North Korea or other wild animals.”

On Thursday the government confirmed two more farms in Gyeonggi were infected with the African swine flu, raising the tally to 13.

One farm is in Tongjin-eup, Gimpo, making it the second farm in Gimpo to be infected and the other is in Paju.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the first farm’s owner reported to the government on Wednesday that four pigs had died.

The farm was raising 2,800 pigs. Within a 500-meter (1,640-foot) radius of the farm are three additional farms raising a total of 6,400 pigs. Within a 3-kilometer radius, there are an additional six farms raising a total of 18,000 pigs.

The government said it would cull a total of 22,500 pigs in the 3-kilometer radius to prevent the virus from spreading.

Previously the government had culled 4,000 or so pigs within a 3-kilometer radius of the first farm that was infected in Gimpo on Sept. 23.

Gimpo has 20 pig farms raising a total of 40,000 pigs.

The spread of ASF had appeared to be slowing when there were no additional reports since the last confirmation was made on Sept. 27. Then a farm in South Chungcheong, which is the region that raises the most number of pigs, came under suspicion. However, tests came out negative.

Now the government is on full alert as four farms in Gyeonggi have been confirmed in the last two days.

One of the four farms turned out to have been mismanaging its livestock.

Until now, wild boars from North Korea were suspected of spreading the virus as the farms that became infected did not fed their pigs with leftover household food, which is one form of transmission.

But the farm in Moonsan-eup, Paju, raising 2,300 pigs confirmed on Thursday said it did feed its pigs with leftover household food.

That farm had no fences and did not take any prophylactic measures against the disease, such as fumigation.

According to the local Paju government, the farm is so small it did not even register as a livestock business.

Fortunately, the virus has only infected farms in the northern part of Gyeonggi.

The government once again stressed that it will work on preventing the virus from spreading south.

South Chungcheong - to the south of Gyeonggi - raises 2.4 million pigs, which accounts for 21 percent of the nation’s 11.3 million.

Agriculture Minister Kim Hyeon-soo told government employees to work extra hard to fight the disease.

“Since there is the possibility of the fumigation effect being lowered as a result of the Typhoon Mitag,” Kim said on Thursday, “we have to keep our guard up more than ever.”

BY LEE HO-JEONG, SHIM SEO-KYONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]