Posts Tagged With: bushmeat

Ebola: the wildlife connection

Ebola: stemming from the depths of West Africa, spanning the oceans, now creeping into America. What does Ebola have to do with wildlife? Everything.

chimps infected with ebola

In the last 20-30 yrs, Ebola has killed tens of thousands of apes, like the chimp seen here.

*75% of recently emerging infectious diseases affecting humans are diseases of animal origin

It is contracted through contact with infected wildlife; i.e. through handling of or ingesting of infected animals. Chimpanzees and bats are the animals most often cited as carriers, but they are not the only animals.

The disease has taken hold of human populations largely because of our exploitation of wildlife. The illegal trafficking of wildlife out of Africa is a dangerous trend, threatening wildlife populations, and posing health risks to humans as well.

slow lorises rescued in la airport-smuggled in underwear

Hidden in a man’s underwear, these slow lorises were confiscated in Los Angeles Airport, destined to be sold as pets.  Photo: LA U.S. Attorneys Office/U.S. Department of Justice

Chimps, slow lorises, monkeys, parrots and sloths are highly sought after in the illegal pet trade. It is a $15 billion business in the US alone. As a result smugglers will try anything to sneak them across the borders. (For more on the illegal pet trade, see: When Dogs and Cats Aren’t Enough)

This trade results in considerable potential contact between infected animals and people, including traffickers, collectors, drivers, airport cargo handlers, airline passengers and the wider public in destination countries. It would only take one sick chimpanzee trafficked through a major airline hub to spawn a new Ebola outbreak. (Tennyson Williams/New Scientist)

But even more pressing perhaps is the persistent use of bushmeat. The poaching and consumption of “game meat” such as apes, porcupines, elephants, antelope, hippos, etc, can have dire consequences, not just to the wildlife populations, but to human health.

bushmeat over grills

Bushmeat is a delicacy not just in parts of Africa, but worldwide.

Ebola is only one of the diseases transmitted through infected meat. Researchers have found the first case of HIV originated from the consumption of infected apes. In addition; smallpox, chicken pox, tuberculosis, measles, rubella, rabies and yellow fever have also been contracted this way.

smuggled bushmeat

Bushmeat is not just an African problem. Between 2009 and 2013, US customs confiscated 69,000 items of bushmeat. Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Humans’ insatiable appetite for meat, their all-consuming ego in owning or hunting animals, and their  general disregard for wildlife has taken its toll. Now we’re paying the deadly price.

For more info on the bushmeat crisis see: On the menu: Bushmeat

 

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On the menu: Bushmeat

What is the Bushmeat Crisis?

Bushmeat is the term used to describe any wild animal used for food, living in the “bush”. It is most common in reference to the area of Western and Central Africa. This can be apes, lemurs, rhino, elephant, antelope,etc.

endangered lemurs killed for bush in mada

Endangered lemurs in Madagascar killed for bushmeat.

Today bushmeat is important both as a food source and a trade item for poor families in rural and urban areas in Western and Central Africa. It is also often a status symbol for urban elites trying to retain links to the “village”, and often commands a high price in city restaurants.

The commercial bushmeat trade is in direct competition and threatens the livelihoods of rural communities dependent on these resources to meet their basic needs.

“People in the Congo Basin eat as much meat as do Europeans and Americans; approximately 80% of animal protein is derived from wildlife.”

While wildlife has been hunted and used for food since the beginning of time, things have changed considerably. The population density in these areas is greater than the animal population, in addition, factoring in the number of threatened and endangered species, the wildlife can no longer be viewed as a free, sustainable resource.

forestry road

Forestry road through Gabon.

The Logging Industry’s contribution

The growing problem of the bushmeat industry is exacerbated by the construction of new roads to facilitate logging and mining operations, allowing poachers easy access to remote forests. Truck drivers also get involved, as they are routinely bribed into carrying loads of up to 200kg of bushmeat, including gorillas and chimpanzees, out of the forests.

Why not raise cow, chickens and goats?

Domestic “farm” animals are raised in the rural and urban households, but they are viewed as savings and insurance, since inflation is high and access to banks or credit is extremely limited. Even if they wanted to use their animals for a protein source, the area is plagued by tsetse flies which cause the disease, animal trypanosomiasis, making it unfeasible.

Of course hunting in the short-term yields immediate benefits, yet in the long run, this damages their economies in the future.

What does this mean for the environment?

While deforestation is also a  threat to wildlife, over hunting is comparable, if not  worse to the Western and Central African areas. Even in places where there is intact forests, there are no large animals, This is known as Empty Forest Syndrome.

     “Experts estimate that the bushmeat trade could eliminate all viable populations of African apes       within the next five to 15 years.”

Loss of wildlife means a loss of seed dispersing animals that play a key role in determining tree composition and distribution. Over time this will potentially cause irreversible global damage.

Human health jeopardy

gorilla hands

Gorilla hands are considered a delicacy in the Congo.

In addition to environmental and economic consequence, the increased contact between humans and wildlife populations raises the risk of people transmitting animal-derived diseases. Consumption of bushmeat has been linked to zoonoses, including anthrax, ebola, monkeypox, HIV, SARS and foot and mouth disease. Additionally, there is also risk of transmitting human diseases to apes and other species.

Global Concerns

Not just an African issue, thousands of pounds of primate parts, antelope, and other bushmeat are smuggled annually into the United States and Europe. The environmental concerns, the health risks and the responsibility are ours to share. From Lion meat tacos in Florida to  Rat meat in London it’s becoming a black market pandemic.

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Categories: Rhino Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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