African conservationists say bushmeat trade fueling zoonotic diseases

NAIROBI, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- Illegal trade in bushmeat, meat from wildlife species that are hunted for human consumption, most often referring to the meat of game in Africa, due to lax policing, poverty, and soaring demand for protein is to blame for the regular outbreak of zoonotic diseases in Africa, experts said Wednesday.

Speaking at a virtual forum in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, the conservation experts decried the trafficking of bushmeat in the continent which exposed already vulnerable communities to the risk of fatal pathogens.

Kenneth Kimitei, the Landscape Ecologist for the Tsavo-Mkomazi Landscape at Nairobi-based African Wildlife Foundation, noted that criminal syndicates are fueling the illegal trade in bushmeat, which caused the spread of zoonotic diseases like Ebola, Marburg virus, and monkeypox in Africa.

According to Kimitei, rampant poverty, demand for proteins in urban centers, cultural beliefs, and weak surveillance were to blame for the illegal trafficking of game meat in a continent grappling with myriad public health and ecological threats.

He said some of the iconic wildlife species targeted for meat by poachers across the East African jungles include the Maasai giraffe, zebra, buffalo, gazelle, and a host of reptiles.

He added that strengthening anti-poaching measures, awareness raising, and providing alternative livelihoods to communities living near wildlife sanctuaries will be key to curbing the illegal trade in bushmeat.

Daniel Ndizihiwe, the Wildlife, and Protected Areas Manager, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Uganda said that the East and Central African region has become the epicenter of the illegal bushmeat trade, creating a security and public health crisis.

Ndizihiwe said 5 million tons of bushmeat is being consumed in the East and Central African region annually, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one million tons of bushmeat flows into urban centers every year.

He noted that soaring food prices, the pandemic disruptions, civil strife, and lethargic policing have been fueling illegal trade in bushmeat and the spread of zoonotic diseases in the vast East and Central African region.

Daniel Mdetele, a Tanzanian epidemiologist, said that limiting interaction between wildlife and communities, enhanced surveillance, public outreach, and improved sanitary standards will be key to containing zoonotic diseases in Africa.

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