By Sharon Atieno

To prevent the transmission of zoonotic diseases (diseases that are spread from animals to humans), community engagement in behavior change interventions is crucial.

This is one of the recommendations of a study led by a team of researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), the global wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, Nature Heritage and the Wildlife Research Training Institute.

The study found that even in 2021 when the world was still coming to terms with COVID-19, rural communities along the Kenya-Tanzania border were still consuming bushmeat.

Nearly 70% of the 299 respondents interviewed said that COVID-19 did not impact their levels of wild meat consumption, with some even reporting increased consumption probably due to the increased food costs caused by regulations to control the COVID-19 pandemic, which made many people seek cheaper protein sources than domesticated animal meats.

Globally, two out of three infectious diseases in humans originate from animals including HIV/AIDS which originated from chimpanzee populations in Central Africa in the 90s.

“Wildmeat trade and consumption in sub-Saharan Africa are both widespread and complex; we need to better understand the rural and urban demand for wild meat, particularly as the meat of some bird, rodent and other species is particularly risky to consume,”  said ILRI scientist Ekta Patel.

The study also examined local perceptions of risks associated with wild meat consumption, where respondents recognized the risk of other disease transmissions, including anthrax and brucellosis. The study’s respondents also recognized that high disease risk was associated with people with open wounds slaughtering wild animals and handling wild meat.

Moreover, respondents identified meat from wild animals as more dangerous than meat from domesticated livestock, with hyena meat consumption cited as the riskiest. Ungulates were found to be the most consumed species, followed by birds, rodents and shrews.

Julia Fa, University of Manchester professor and fellow at CIFOR-ICRAF said: “While hunting wild animals for their meat has been a crucial activity in the evolution of humans and continues to be an essential source of food and income for millions of indigenous and rural communities globally, wildlife conservationists rightly fear that excessive hunting of many wild species will cause their demise.

“To ensure continued use of wildlife resources by those who depend on it, sustainable hunting, marketing and consumption practices must be implemented. Local communities need to remain or become custodians of the wildlife resources within their lands, for their own well-being as well as for biodiversity in general.”

Notably, more than 80% of the study’s respondents living in Kenya believed that wild meat should not be sold due to concerns for wildlife conservation while less than half of the respondents in Tanzania felt the same. This is perhaps reflecting Kenya’s more stringent wildlife use regulations.

Also, the study found that more men than women were concerned about getting COVID-19 from live animals.

Other recommendations to promote safe and sustainable wild meat consumption include providing communities with greater access to affordable meat from domesticated livestock, supporting food sellers in informal markets to adopt greater hygiene and related food safety standards and finding new ways to meet the nutritional needs of the poor, for whom wild meat remains an important source of proteins and micronutrients.

The researchers also advocated for regulating wildlife hunting and the sale of wild animals and their meat for conservation.