Go slow on game meat from animals hunted at the Mara-Serengeti wildlife ecosystem, researchers studying incidents of wildlife diseases warn.
They say the meat contains several groups of bacteria especially those that cause anthrax, brucellosis and Q fever.
“These diseases can be deadly if left untreated,” said Vivek Kapur, a professor of microbiology and infectious diseases and associate director of the Huck Institutes of Life Sciences at Penn State.
The scientists said in findings published in the latest Scientific Reports that all the microorganisms were present in each of the 56 fresh and processed bushmeat samples collected. In fact, they add, they found 27 different groups of bacteria.
Researchers found a troublingly high prevalence of bacteria in the genus Clostridium—species of anaerobic bacteria that are widespread in the environment, particularly in soil—which cause diseases like botulism and tetanus. They found microbiomes of wildebeest collected during the dry season to have more than 78 per cent of Clostridial.
The experts attached to University Park, Pennsylvania in the US, Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania, and Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute Hub, Nairobi said while some bushmeat consumers were willing users and even patrons of the “delicacies” especially in Tanzania, others were unsuspecting customers.
In the Serengeti ecosystem, bushmeat is primarily acquired through house-to-house sales and via middlemen or hunters to the end-consumers.
The Kenya Wildlife Service occasionally conducts raids at meat markets where the meat is often passed off as beef or mixed with other livestock meat products like goats.
One such raid last year in Nairobi’s wholesale meat Market, Burma, seized 800kg of Zebra meat; in August, a trader was caught in Naivasha, 100km from the capital with 200kg of buffalo meat destined for the city, leading officials to conclude that tonnes of wildlife meat could be ending up on unsuspecting Kenyans’ dining tables.
In Tanzania, the study said hunting though not allowed without proper permits, contributed to the annual harvesting of between 70,000–120,000 wildebeest alone.
In both countries, illegal bushmeat hunting is conducted all year-round and increases during the period when migrating large herbivores, such as wildebeest are in close proximity to the villages.
There, the study notes bushmeat represents an important source of animal protein with a recent survey in regions surrounding the Greater Serengeti ecosystem suggesting that between two and five bushmeat meals are consumed per week per household.
The samples were collected from the predominant large herbivores in the region including wildebeest, buffalo, as well as some less common wildlife species including eland, Thomson’s Gazelle-gazelle, zebra, giraffe, wild rabbit, topi, porcupine, and warthog.
“Many people in sub-Saharan Africa regularly consume bushmeat, up to two-to-five times per week, which means that millions of people could be exposing themselves to these dangerous pathogens,” said Robab Katani, assistant research professor of global health, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Penn State.
“Bushmeat consumption and trade has been increasing because of growing food insecurity, low cost compared to other meat products, and perceived medicinal value, among other things,” Prof Katani added.
According to Ms Katani, the bushmeat is also smuggled to the US and Western Europe illegally, showing that the problem is not confined to Africa.
The scientists collected bushmeat between September 2016 and March 2017, in areas surrounding the game reserves which are hotspots for human-wildlife interactions, during both rainy and dry season, to check for a proper temporal representation of the presence of microbes in the meat samples.