Although bushmeat hunting provides a livelihood for some hunters in Africa, the biological costs to humankind arguably outweigh these benefits. Many animals that are poached carry diseases that have been proven to be disastrous to humans; HIV spilled over from hunted primates while Ebola and COVID-19 are alleged to have come from poached bats.
Today, the population in Africa has increased and with it so has the continent’s rate of bushmeat consumption, all in an effort to satisfy a rise in demand. As forests become more accessible and hunting becomes easier with better technology, an international bushmeat market has also blossomed. This phenomenon does not only threaten the wildlife of Africa but also has deadly implications for humanity at large. However, we do not argue that the nature of bushmeat hunting itself is the source of these problems; rather, it is its unsafe practices. In other words, we don’t believe that bushmeat hunting should be eradicated, just made safer.
The fact is the rate of diseases spilling over from the animal world will decrease if bushmeat hunters take more precautions to keep themselves and others safe. In Michigan, for example, deer hunters contracted tuberculosis as a result of the animals’ blood mingling with their own during the handling process. Bushmeat diseases are often transmitted in this way, particularly when the meat has not been handled safely. Additionally, failing to cook bushmeat properly can pose a threat to the people handling it as well as consuming it. With this in mind, bushmeat hunting can continue to offer a livelihood to certain individuals provided that precautions to improve sanitation are put in place and hunters understand the potentially catastrophic repercussions of improper bushmeat hunting.
Only 24% of hunters polled reported knowing about disease transmission from animals to humans, and many didn’t know the risks that come from handling. It would therefore be beneficial to educate hunters on these risks so that they are fully aware of the risks they and those in the market face.
Education provided by outsiders could potentially be regarded as condescending; in order to mitigate this, we propose that community leaders spread awareness. If precautions are encouraged by local leaders, those that hunters look to and trust, we believe that positive changes within the bushmeat industry are more likely to be realized. Such encouragement would include emphasizing the need for handwashing, not handling meat with open wounds, being careful around animal blood, cooking meat thoroughly, and overall taking greater care when handling meat. Posters, including memorable slogans, could be made that remind hunters of these safety measures. Community leaders could even implement incentives that seek to make bushmeat practices safer; this may push hunters to pay greater attention to their practices and procedures.
Bushmeat hunting does not have to stop altogether. It just has to adjust its practices and acknowledge the dangers that can arise with unsafe practices. Increased surveillance of diseases specific to hunted animals will also help to detect diseases before they constitute a serious danger. This can be done by looking at current human infections with the goal of identifying emerging spillovers before they happen. The Global Virome Project, for example, works to identify viruses in animals that could be transmitted to humans.
Antibiotics and vaccines are of course effective measures, but they are not preventative ones: they aid humans only after disease spills over and infection occurs. By taking safer precautions with meat, providing increased education about disease to hunters, and surveying diseases, we can hope to prevent spillovers and ultimately the emergence of another global pandemic.
Emma Gun is a member of the class of 2024 and can be reached at email@example.com
Celia Penny is a member of the class of 2024 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org