What's up with bush meat?

I read an article a while back on people hunting for “bush meat” in the C.A.R. and how this was dangerous from a public health standpoint and just read an article on an ebola outbreak in Guinea where the Health Ministry warned people about eating bush meat. Presumably, people have been hunting in this area since before we were even human. What’s up with a link to viral diseases like AIDS, ebola, etc.?


People are more crowded, thus diseases are more dangerous. Also the wildlife population isn’t as healthy, due to pollution, lack of room and hunting pressure.

Ebola and other filoviruses only occasionally cause outbreaks in humans. The last confirmed Ebola outbreak was in Uganda two years ago. This outbreak is a very long way away in northwestern Africa. There has only ever been one recorded case of Ebola in that part of Africa.

So where has the virus been in the meantime if not transmitting from human to human? The answer is in its natural reservoir. If it has no other natural reservoir other than humans then that virus dies out with the last human case, like smallpox.

However Ebola is being spread, most likely within an animal species or between various animal species, when it is not infecting humans. It may not be fatal to the animals in question. We are not entirely certain exactly which species are the natural reservoir of the ebola virus though the prior case in nearby Ivory Coast was apparently transmitted to a human from a chimpanzee.

The concern about bush meat is that with an active outbreak the hunters may come into close contact with bodily fluids of an infected animal and thus pass the infection on to others. Theoretically this is always a concern with bush meat, but a much riskier proposition with known infectious agents in the area.

Bush meat is often used to describe apes like chimpanzees and gorillas. Because these species are genetically close to humans, it’s easier for diseases to pass from the meat to the person eating it.

Would prions (like mad cow disease) be more of a problem with genetically-similar apes?

Presumably, humans have been hunting great apes for a long time now. Did the diseases develop recently?

There are, possibly, two things at work here (and this is a WAG, so take it for what it’s worth).

  1. A greater amount and scope of travel. Before the modern era (and for some areas of central Africa, that would be very recently) if an outbreak occurred, it was very unlikely to be spread outside of the village or region in which it started just because people didn’t generally move in and out of those areas as quickly or as often.

  2. There is no higher incidence, but more incidents get REPORTED. Modern communications make it easier and more likely for word to get to areas outside of the affected area than before.

Viral infections of humans from mutated animal viruses are commonly associated with animal husbandry, but I am not familiar with virus transmission being an issue for hunters (parasites are a different story), at least in the US.

I think the concept is that hunters are more likely to come in contact with blood from the dead animal, into open sores and cuts and abrasions - the sort of injuries people running around the bush and wielding knives and pointy sticks might expect a few of. Not to mention ingesting and inhaling blood spray and other savoury concepts.

One theory is that this is how HIV first made the jump to humans from apes or monkeys.

Bushmeat had probably always been associated with risk of disease, but in earlier times these diseases would be confined to remote communities, where they would simmer at a low level (as HIV likely did), wipe everyone out, or eventually mutate to be less deadly.

In modern times, humans are moving into more remote locations (in Cameroon, logging roads deep into virgin forest are a driver of bush meat.) They are hunting animals that have no experience with human and have not had their diseases come into equilibrium with human settlements.

In the meantime, elites have taken up bush meat as a luxury item, while the poor have found it an economical alternative to farmed food. And migrants to the ever growing cities buy it for nostalgia.

New roads, along with increased travel in general, had turned bush meat from a local specialty that has to be consumed immediately to a brisk international trade.

Just to add to that; bush meat is any type of animal they can kill and eat. Crocodiles, apes, monkeys, rats, snakes, etc.

Yes. Great apes may show up as bush meat, but that would be pretty rare as they aren’t particularly abundant and would be more trouble than it’s worth unless you have a wealthy buyer with a thing for apes and a functioning supply chain to get the meat to them.

I’ve eaten a lot of bush meat in my life. Usually it is small mammals-- porcupines, wild cats, small monkeys, cane rats, etc. now and then you might get an antelope or snake or something, but that is less common. Bush meat is mostly trapped, rather than actively hunted. Setting a few traps is seen as an easy way to get dinner and, if you are lucky, maybe make a small profit.

There was the story that a few years ago, the rebels in the Congo (CAR?) were causing serious environmental damage by corralling the locals (pygmies) and forcing them to hunt bush meat for the armies. The story was that if they didn’t produce, they became bush meat too.