Government officials in South Africa have moved to calm fears that a deformed lamb resembling – in some people’s minds -- a human baby was the result of bestiality and the work of the devil.
Photos of the stillborn lamb went viral on social media this week, horrifying villagers in the Eastern Cape settlement of Lady Frere, approximately 200 miles south of Bloemfontein.
Pictures of the deformed fetus started to circulate on social media, leading many to believe that the photos were a hoax.
But the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform confirmed the authenticity of the pictures.
"The elders when they saw it said it was sent by the devil and was born after a coupling between a man and a sheep and then there was panic," said a villager quoted by The Sun. "Many people are afraid and will not be happy until it is burned."
However, Dr. Lubabalo Mrwebi, the province's chief director of veterinary services, said the animal fetus was infected with Rift Valley fever, a viral illness chiefly spread by mosquitoes.
Mrwebi said the animal was likely conceived in December or January, a rainy time of year that would have seen a proliferation of mosquitoes and midges known for spreading Rift Valley Fever.
"We can confirm that this deformed lamb is not a progeny of sheep ovum and a human sperm," Mrwebi said in a statement, pointing out that sheep ovum and human sperm cannot create a viable life form because their chromosome numbers do not match.
"The deformed lamb exhibits signs that are consistent with an early fetal development that went wrong as a result of a viral infection," Mrwebi said to timeslive.co.za. “Virus infections in early stages of pregnancy may infect the fetus and lead to the development of malformations in the growing fetus. It is likely that this is what happened to the Lady Frere sheep.”
Veterinary officials promised to conduct a full postmortem on the animal and reveal its results to the public.
“The lesson we are learning from this experience is that small-stock farmers must keep their animals protected against diseases like the Rift Valley Fever with a correct vaccine‚ which is best given long before the mating season so that by the time the females get pregnant they are already protected against this disease,” Mrwebi said.