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Understanding the bushmeat market: why do people risk infection from bat meat?

last modified May 27, 2016 11:50 AM
Ebola, as with many emerging infections, is likely to have arisen due to man’s interaction with wild animals – most likely the practice of hunting and eating wild meat known as ‘bushmeat’. A team of researchers led by the University of Cambridge and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has surveyed almost six hundred people across southern Ghana to find out what drives consumption of bat bushmeat – and how people perceive the risks associated with the practice.

The Straw-Coloured Fruit Bat, Eidolon helvum, is widely hunted and eaten in Ghana, but carries a risk of infection with ‘zoonotic’ pathogens – diseases transmitted from animal to man. Hunting, butchering and consuming wild animals for food can potentially transmit these infections through bites, scratches, bodily fluids, tissue and excrement. Bats in particular appear to host more zoonotic viruses per species than any other group of mammals, yet very little is known about how humans and bats interact, how people perceive bats and their accompanying disease risk, or who is most at risk.

Dr Olivier Restif from the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge explains: “Knowing who eats bush meat and why, as well as how they perceive the risks, is important for informing both disease and conservation management plans. This requires a close-knit collaboration between epidemiologists, ecologists and social anthropologists. That is why we have teamed up with the Zoological Society of London and the University of Ghana to develop this research programme.”

Dr Alexandra Kamins, a Gates Cambridge scholar alumna working with Dr Restif, adds: “All too often, local community voices go unheard, despite representing those most at risk of spillover and often shouldering negative impacts arising from intervention measures. That is why it was important for us to listen to them.”

Dr Kamins and colleagues interviewed 577 people across southern Ghana, including hunters, vendors and consumers of bat meat. Of these, the majority (551) were interviewed using a general survey whilst the rest were interviewed in-depth through focus groups. Read more..