Scientists agree that consumption of bushmeat–a collection of wild animal meat including rats and monkeys– triggered the Ebola outbreak in Guinea. That outbreak has since spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia, with fears of further contamination in Nigeria. Despite the evidence, however, West Africans continue to believe bush meat is safe to eat, and have expressed panic at the idea of changing their lifestyles and creating a livestock market, according to The Guardian.
“Life is not easy here in the village,” said Sâa Fela Léno from Guinea. “They [authorities and aid groups] want to ban our traditions that we have observed for generations. Animal husbandry is not widespread here because bush meat is easily available. Banning bush meat means a new way of life, which is unrealistic.”
Bush meat is a foreign concept to most Americans. It is meat from any animal hunted in Africa, Asia, and South America. These animals include gorillas, fruit bats, and apes. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth issued a warning to the people of Africa.
“We are not suggesting that people stop hunting altogether, which isn’t realistic,” he said. “But communities need clear advice on the need not to touch dead animals or to sell or eat the meat of any animal that they find already dead. They should also avoid hunting animals that are sick or behaving strangely, as this is another red flag.”
Unfortunately, the fruit bat does not exhibit any outward symptoms of Ebola, which makes them “the likeliest candidate to be nature’s reservoir” for the disease. Thus, the FAO is encouraging everyone to stay away from all fruit bat meat.
“The virus is killed when meat is cooked at a high temperature or heavily smoked, but anyone who handles, skins or butchers an infected wild animal is at risk of contracting the virus,” Lubroth added.
Yet, there are many natives still in denial. The refusal to believe bush meat is unsafe is partly due to a belief that Ebola was caused by medical workers to harvest organs from African villagers. This fear makes people not take family members to hospitals or doctors. While such myths contribute to the problem, some experts are compounding it by assuring villagers that bush meat is safe. Madam Grace Anyomi, a bushmeat trader in Guinea, said the meat “is healthier than any meat because it has no meat.”
“Our business is collapsing,” she said. “I have used income from this business to take care of all my children for all these years. So where and when did this virus get into it? For me, I do not believe that there is any virus in it, and I will continue to do my business.”
Visitors to restaurants that offer bushmeat told the media they do not believe the meat is infected with Ebola.
Officials also claim the meat is safe, which does not help the problem.
Some people who accepted the fact that Ebola is in bushmeat still might eat it. Food is not always accessible like it is in America. Parents provide any food they can for the family.
“If you’re out in sub-Saharan Africa and you need food for your family, there aren’t many options to get protein,” said Daniel Bausch, an associate professor of tropical medicine at Tulane University.
Lubroth suggested the world should introduce livestock to Africa to discourage people from hunting bushmeat.
“We recognize [sic] the importance that bush meat has to quality nutrition that you may not get from only crop-based diets,” he said. “We do not say that you should stop wild meat … but can we replace the need to go to the forest and hunt wildlife with having a source of livestock and livelihood that can be safer?”
“Can we have a more development agenda where we could have poultry production, sheep, goats, pigs … so that there is no undue encroachment into the forest for hunting?”