Pretoria, South Africa

South Africa : passing of Prof. Gavin R. Thomson (23.04)


Prof. Dr. Gavin R. Thomson


The World Organisation for Animal Health has learned of the untimely passing of Dr. Gavin R. Thomson, on 23 April 2021.  In Gavin, as affectionately known, Africa lost a monument of veterinary science. Born in South Africa in 1943, Gavin became a household name, as a veterinary virologist, when it came to foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and in particular the Southern Africa Territories (SAT) serotypes, which are so problematic as they circulate quietly in wildlife reservoirs.

Gavin hosting the National feasibility study stakeholder workshop “Laikipia Integrated Feedlot Scheme” on export of beef from Kenya (World Bank) in Nairobi, Kenya, in May 2019. Picture (c) P. Bastiaensen (oie) 2019


A graduate at MSc and PhD level (immunology and virology) respectively from Birmingham and London, in the UK, Gavin Thomson rose through the ranks at the then Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Institute in Pretoria, South Africa, to become Director of the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Laboratory and later – in 1995 –  the Onderstepoort Institute for Exotic Diseases (OIED).

Gavin at one of the first FMD PCP Roadmap meetings : Joint FAO – OIE technical workshop “advancing along the Progressive Control Pathway (PCP) for FMD in the SADC region” in Gaborone, Botswana in 2011. Picture (c) P. Bastiaensen (oie) 2011. 


In 1998 the OIED became the Exotic Diseases Division (EDD) and became fully integrated with the new Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (OVI) of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in South Africa. Gavin Thomson took over the leadership of the OVI as a whole.

In 2000 Gavin left the ARC – OVI in Pretoria and joined the FAO as a Technical Advisor, seconded to the Pan-African programme for the Control of Epizootics (PACE), following on from the Pan-African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC) programme, both coordinated by the African Union (IBAR). He made significant contributions to the final stages of the rinderpest eradication and other considerable work such as on contagious bovine pleuro-pneumonia (CBPP) control in Africa.

Having been associated to various scientific panels of the OIE for more than a decade, from 1994 to 2006, he was elected Chairman of the precursor to the OIE Scientific Commission for Animal Diseases (SCAD), the then Scientific Commission for FMD, from 2000 to 2003.

In later years he published a considerable body of work on trade in safe products, which he called “commodity-based trade” (CBT), in particular in the context of beef production in countries with large wildlife populations and the emergence of (unfenced) trans-frontier conservation areas (TFCA), largely regarded as incompatible with market access requirements for cattle and/or beef.

Gavin Thomson, second from left, between Lethlogile Modisa (current OIE Delegate of Botswana) and Mark Atkinson (KAZA TFCA Programme, AHEAD) during the joint SADC / AHEAD Workshop on Reconciling Livestock Health and Wildlife Conservation Goals in Southern Africa, in Phakalane, Botswana in November 2012. Picture (c) AHEAD (WCS) 2012. 

He managed, through working with Member Countries, national/regional stakeholders, as well as international and organisations, including the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Union, to contribute to the standard-setting in the OIE.

Throughout his career he fought the economic exclusion of smallholder livestock farmers from regional and international trade, simply because of the misfortune of having been born in a wildlife-rich environment.

After the conclusion of the PACE programme and his assignment to FAO in 2004, he joined the SADC Secretariat (EU-funded Regional FMD Control project) in 2006 and later joined Dr. Mary-Lou Penrith in a private consulting firm, appropriately called TAD Scientific, which brought him to all corners of the world, as a technical advisor to governments, private sector entities and countless conservation advocacy groups and scientific fora, as a gifted public speaker as well as trusted media source.

Our thoughts go to his spouse Marguerite and their three daughters.

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A tribute to

Gavin R. Thomson

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