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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The spatial ecology of free-ranging domestic pigs (Sus scrofa) in western Kenya

Lian F Thomas12, William A de Glanville12, Elizabeth A Cook12 and Eric M Fèvre12*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution, Institute for Immunology and Infection Research, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Ashworth Laboratories, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK

2 International Livestock Research Institute, Old Naivasha Road, PO Box 30709, 00100 Nairobi, Kenya

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BMC Veterinary Research 2013, 9:46  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-9-46

Published: 7 March 2013

Abstract

Background

In many parts of the developing world, pigs are kept under low-input systems where they roam freely to scavenge food. These systems allow poor farmers the opportunity to enter into livestock keeping without large capital investments. This, combined with a growing demand for pork, especially in urban areas, has led to an increase in the number of small-holder farmers keeping free range pigs as a commercial enterprise. Despite the benefits which pig production can bring to a household, keeping pigs under a free range system increases the risk of the pig acquiring diseases, either production-limiting or zoonotic in nature. This study used Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to track free range domestic pigs in rural western Kenya, in order to understand their movement patterns and interactions with elements of the peri-domestic environment.

Results

We found that these pigs travel an average of 4,340 m in a 12 hr period and had a mean home range of 10,343 m2 (range 2,937–32,759 m2) within which the core utilisation distribution was found to be 964 m2 (range 246–3,289 m2) with pigs spending on average 47% of their time outside their homestead of origin.

Conclusion

These are the first data available on the home range of domestic pigs kept under a free range system: the data show that pigs in these systems spend much of their time scavenging outside their homesteads, suggesting that these pigs may be exposed to infectious agents over a wide area. Control policies for diseases such as Taenia solium, Trypanosomiasis, Trichinellosis, Toxoplasmosis or African Swine Fever therefore require a community-wide focus and pig farmers require education on the inherent risks of keeping pigs under a free range system. The work presented here will enable future research to incorporate movement data into studies of disease transmission, for example for the understanding of transmission of African Swine Fever between individuals, or in relation to the life-cycle of parasites including Taenia solium.

Keywords:
Pig; GPS; Taenia; Trichinella; African swine fever; Toxoplasma; Trypanosoma; Free range