In 1994, rinderpest virus of African lineage 2 was detected in East Africa after an apparent absence of more than 30 years. In 1996, a disease search, based on participatory epidemiological techniques supplemented by serological and virological analyses, was undertaken in southern Somalia and northeastern Kenya to collate past and current epidemiological information about rinderpest-compatible disease events, and to test the hypothesis that African lineage 2 rinderpest virus persists in populations of transhumant cattle in the Somali ethnic areas. The findings in Afmadu in Lower Juba led the search for rinderpest to the communities in the Bardera area and then on to the Kenya/Somalia border areas between Mandera and El Wak. The herders had a specific knowledge of the clinical signs of rinderpest and provided detailed and accurate descriptions of cases. They differentiated between classical acute rinderpest and a milder syndrome characterised by an ocular discharge and diarrhoea, few oral lesions, corneal opacity and occasional mortality. The studies provided evidence for the endemic occurrence of rinderpest back to at least 1981, with a periodicity of five years in the incidence of the disease. After a period of high mortality in 1992 to 1993, around Afmadu, herders reported a mild disease, with occasional increases in mortality, from other areas of Lower Juba and the Gedo Region. Reports by herders of a rinderpest-compatible disease in the El Wak area were pursued until active cases were located and rinderpest was confirmed.