Bushmeat and the Ebola Virus
Previously, I have focused on the potential for wild animal meat—or ‘bushmeat’—to improve the nutrition of many poor families in West Africa. The demand for bushmeat is growing, particularly in premium urban markets, and commercial breeding could also provide an income source for poor farmers.
One such bushmeat delicacy in demand is the fruit bat, the underground trade of which is estimated to be millions-of-dollars. However, recently the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has issued a warning that consuming fruit bats and other wildlife species may contribute to the spread of Ebola. Healthcare workers are cautioning that fruit bats, which do not show signs of the disease, should particularly be avoided. However, curbing the demand and trade of bushmeat is not easy.
Bat-hunting season is during the dry season when other agriculture production decreases. As fruit bat meat is highly valued in urban markets, many rural farmers—particularly women—depend on the bushmeat trade as an important source of income. While several West African governments have attempted to outlaw the sale and consumption of bushmeat, an inability to enforce this ban, combined with a mistrust of government, has led many rural communities to further hide this unregulated trade.