A stream along the South Korean border turned red after the government slaughtered thousands of pigs infected with swine fever
- South Korean residents near the North Korean border uncovered a long stream of blood flowing toward one of Seoul's main freshwater sources earlier this week.
- The blood stream was the result of a mass pig culling gone wrong. South Korean officials killed over 47,000 pigs thought to have been infected with a highly contagious and incurable African swine fever.
- The swine fever virus has wreaked havoc across pig populations in Asia and Europe. South Korea has already had to cull over 300,000 pigs since the virus crossed the border from North Korea in September.
- Fearing the contaminated blood water would infect the Imjin River, South Korean officials swiftly swooped in and built dikes and used pumps to halt the blood.
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South Korean residents living near the North Korean border rose from bed yesterday to a real-life horror show. A tributary leading from the northern border down to the Imjin River ran crimson red with blood. The culprit of the thick, bloodied stream? Blood rung from the carcasses of 47,000 pigs infected with African swine fever.
North Korea reported its first instance of swine fever-infected pigs earlier this year after the virus hopped the Chinese border. China has been reeling from the virus since August 2018.
African swine fever doesn't affect humans but it's fatal for pigs. Without a vaccine or antidote, the only currently known way to prevent infected pigs from spreading the disease is through mass culls. China, which houses nearly half of the world's domestic pig population, has already killed over 1 million pigs. Mass culls in Vietnam have led to 5 million more dead pigs.
South Korea had managed to keep the virus from entering its border until this September when officials say an infected North Korean feral hog crossed the demilitarised zone making its way south past 2.5 miles (4 kilometre) of landmines. Since the infection broke out, South Korea officials have culled nearly 400,000 pigs in a desperate attempt to stop the virus from spreading.
This week, 47,00 pigs were killed, a number so large that slaughterers actually ran out of plastic carcass containers, The New York Times reported. Instead, mounds of dead corpses were stacked one on top of the other and left to rot in the open air on the back of large truck beds. Blood seeped through their swollen bodies and off the trucks. Heavy rains swept through the area on Sunday, which helped in the dispersal of the blood. Images of the blood-soaked vehicles appeared online, showing the bloody residue left behind.
Eventually, the blood from the thousands of pigs made its way to a tributary where, if not stopped, would eventually contaminate the Imjin River, the main freshwater source for many of Seoul's nine million residents. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, the head of the NHO Yeoncheon Imjin River Civic Network, Lee Seok-woo, said local residents feared a potential disaster.
"It made many people living in the area anxious and worried," he said.
There was another, more immediate problem too: the smell. The stench of old blood and rotting pig carcasses was so vile, according to the South China Morning Post, that some farmers couldn't even go to work. "This should have never happened," Lee told the Post.
In a race to stop the stream of blood, South Korean officials hastily built dikes and used pumps to halt the contaminated water, The New York Times reported. They succeeded. By Wednesday South Korean officials tested the Imjin River and could not find any traces of the virus.
South Korea has placed the infection blame on its northern neighbours
African swine fever has wreaked havoc on Asian and European farmers, and millions of pigs have died and international pork prices have been in turmoil. For South Korea, which has acted swiftly and deployed military snipers, drones and civilian hunters to pick off infected feral hogs, part of the blame for their own outbreaks comes from a lack of action by their northern neighbour.
A report filed by the North's government in May acknowledged only 22 pig deaths resulting from Africa swine fever, an unbelievably low number. The country has refused to submit any additional reports to international bodies since then, and now South Korean officials say their neighbours are refusing to engage in joint quarantine efforts.