The dangers of the bushmeat trade

Posted on 2020-10-01 12:31:56


The Conversation recently published a sobering article by Professor Ben Garrod of Evolutionary Biology and Science Engagement, University of East Anglia, about efforts to control the killing or live capture of endangered and legally protected African wildlife for the flourishing ‘bushmeat’ market. He described the burning of a huge amount of bushmeat confiscated in Liberia, West Africa, to prevent its entry into local and overseas markets.

Having acquired extensive knowledge of the bushmeat trade through his field and laboratory work, he is deeply concerned about the killing of seriously endangered species and also the “very real implications” of this meat being eaten. He says that academics have long been teaching about these dangers, researchers have been investigating it and writing about it, and public health organisations have been warning about it, but it continues relentlessly.

The consequent diseases are known as “zoonotic” because they are found in non-human animals and are able to transfer to humans. Salmonella, influenza, Lyme disease, tuberculosis, anthrax, HIV, SARs, MERs, Ebola and Covid-19 all “started off in other species”, but there is still uncertainty about the actual original hosts.

The more we take away the natural habitats of wild animals, the more we encourage the emergence of zoonotic diseases. Furthermore, bushmeat is being transported all over the world. This needs to be taken much more seriously. There is also often brutal cruelty in the transportation of living wild animals to countries where bushmeat is seen as a delicacy and even as a status symbol.

Professor Garrod reports that research conducted at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris in 2010 found that “more than five tonnes of illegal meat arrived at this one airport each week, a staggering 170 tonnes annually”. During a four-year period, meat from green monkeys, magabeys, baboons and chimpanzees was confiscated at JFK Airport in New York. It was reported in 2012 that nearly 100 tonnes of animal products are seized coming into the UK every year, some of it illegal bushmeat. More might be coming in illegally, but identification is difficult.

People who eat or handle bushmeat need to be aware of the risk. The Coronavirus has made it clear that the illegal wildlife trade is a global issue. A separate issue is the passing on of diseases from humans to animals.

Pictured: Ben Garrod

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