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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 00:42 GMT 01:42 UK
Spiders plague Kazakh camels
Kazakh camels
Over 100 camels have been bitten

Black widows are notorious poisonous spiders but, as Kazakh Khabar TV reports, it is a little-known family member that is making life difficult for the camel-breeders of Kazakhstan.

Karakurt spiders [Latrodectus tredecimguttatus] are being found in increasing numbers in Kazakhstan's western Mangistau Region and they are biting.

Livestock farms face major losses as their camels fall prey to the "flood" of deadly spiders.

According to veterinary records, the highest incidence of spider attacks is in the village of Taushyk in Tupkaragan District.

The village, which is the home of the region's biggest camel farm, has more than 4,000 camels.

"The heat has just started but the karakurt is already a concern. More than 50 camels and two people have been bitten," village headman Tulekbay Zhetkizgenov told the television station.

Fatal bite

Nature designed the Bactrian camel to be a tough animal. It takes cold winters and hot summers in its stride, and it can manage without food and water for a long time.

But the bite of a creature weighing a tiny fraction of the camel's mass is fatal, unless the camel is quickly injected with serum.

Karakurt spider
This spider can kill a camel

The problem is that the village has no anti-venom.

"We have no vaccines against the karakurt. We are suffering, people are suffering and our animals are suffering," says Mr Zhetkizgenov.

Taushyk's chief vet, Abay Yerzagulov, says they have raised their concerns with the authorities.

"We need serum from the karakurt's venom," he says. "We are treating camels without serum using droppers now. But this is not helping much. It should be treated with serum."

But the serum is not produced in the country and, as Kazakh television reports, an Uzbek-made anti-venom costs more than $130.

Big losses

With a camel costing more than $700, farmer Ilyas Beymurzayev, with 10 stricken animals, is already looking at a loss of $7,000.

He is a very worried man; summer has just started and the karakurt are dangerous until September. He does not like to think how many of his camels may be dead by then.

In the last flood of karakurt in 1983, 180 camels died in Taushyk. Already, more than 100 animals have been bitten in the region.

Locals treat this situation as an inevitable disaster but, as the television points out, it would have been better if the local authorities had bought the vaccines on time.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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