Arnold Theiler

Sir Arnold Theiler KCMG (26 March 1867 24 July 1936)[1] Pour le Mérite[1] is considered to be the father of veterinary science in South Africa. He was born in Frick, Canton Aargau, Switzerland. He received his higher education, and later qualified as a veterinarian, in Zurich. In 1891 Theiler travelled to South Africa and at first found employment as a farm worker on Irene Estates near Pretoria, owned by Nellmapius, but later that year started practising as a veterinarian.

Arnold Theiler
Theiler in 1923
Born(1867-03-26)March 26, 1867
DiedJuly 24, 1936(1936-07-24) (aged 69)
Alma materUniversity of Zurich
Spouse(s)Emma Sophie Jegge
ChildrenHans, Margaret, Gertrud, Max
Scientific career
FieldsVeterinary infectious diseases

His success at producing a vaccine to combat an outbreak of smallpox among the miners of the Witwatersrand brought him an appointment as state veterinarian for the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, in which capacity he served during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. During this period his research team developed a vaccine against rinderpest, a malignant and contagious disease of cattle. His tremendous energy, pioneering spirit and professional integrity brought him international recognition.

He described in 1919 what is now known as Theiler's disease (acute serum hepatitis, postvaccination hepatitis or idiopathic acute hepatic disease) - one of the most common causes of acute hepatitis in horses - when he observed the symptoms of liver disease in animals vaccinated against African horse sickness with a combination of live virus and equine antiserum.[2] This disease is now known to be caused by a parvovirus.[3]

Theiler was the first Director of the Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Institute, outside Pretoria. This institute under his leadership carried out research on African horse sickness, sleeping sickness, malaria, East Coast fever (Theileria parva) and tick-borne diseases such as redwater, heartwater and biliary. The University of Pretoria Faculty of Veterinary Science was established there in 1920 which enabled veterinarians to train locally for the first time. Theiler became the first dean of this faculty.

He married Emma Sophie Jegge (1861–1951) and had two sons and two daughters, the younger two of whom worked at Onderstepoort: Hans (1894–1947), a veterinarian; Margaret (1896–1988), a teacher; Gertrud (1897–1986), a parasitologist and professor; and Max Theiler (1899–1972), a Nobel laureate in 1951 in Physiology and Medicine.


  1. Jaff, Fay (1963). "Arnold Theiler - Veterinary Genius and Founder of Onderstepoort". They Came to South Africa. Cape Town: H. Timmins. Retrieved 4 December 2010.
  2. Theiler A (1919) Acute liver-atrophy and parenchymatous hepatitis in horses. The Fifth and Sixth Reports of the Director of Veterinary Research. Department of Agriculture, Union of South Africa (The Government Printing and Stationery Office, Pretoria, Union of South Africa), pp7–164
  3. Divers, T. J.; Tennant, B. C.; Kumar, A.; McDonough, S.; Cullen, J.; Bhuva, N.; Jain, K.; Chauhan, L. S.; Scheel, T. K.; Lipkin, W. I.; Laverack, M.; Trivedi, S.; Srinivasa, S.; Beard, L.; Rice, C. M.; Burbelo, P. D.; Renshaw, R. W.; Dubovi, E.; Kapoor, A. (2018). "New Parvovirus Associated with Serum Hepatitis in Horses after Inoculation of Common Biological Product". Emerging Infectious Diseases. 24 (2): 303–310. doi:10.3201/eid2402.171031. PMC 5782890. PMID 29350162.
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