Seven in 10 rural Kenyans eat wild meat, ILRI study reveals

Bush meat

KWS personnel examine game meat recovered from a house in Naivasha during a past operation.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

 Seven out of 10 Kenyans in rural areas still consume wild meat despite its many risks.

A study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) found that nearly 70 per cent of Kenyans living along the Kenya-Tanzania border consume bushmeat, despite the growing risk of zoonotic spillover – the process by which pathogens jump over from animals to humans. It is widely believed that Covid-19 emerged from wild animals in a Chinese market. Zoonoses are transmitted from animals. However, that knowledge has not impacted Kenyans’ consumption of bushmeat, the ILRI study found.

Nearly 70 per cent of respondents said Covid-19 did not impact their levels of wild meat consumption, with only 30 per cent of respondents reporting lower consumption due to the pandemic. In some cases, the consumption has increased.

Men were more concerned than women about getting Covid-19 from animals. “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.”

Researchers attributed this to increased food costs caused by regulations to control Covid-19, which made many people seek protein sources cheaper than beef, mutton, chicken and other domesticated animal meat. The study, conducted in December 2021, interviewed 300 people. It found that levels of education played a critical role in understanding zoonosis transmission, and assumed that Covid-19 and its association with animal-related transmission would have increased people’s awareness and decreased their appetite for bushmeat.

The researchers explored the impact of Covid-19 patterns on wild meat consumption and perceptions of associated zoonotic disease risks and disease risks associated with wild meat value chains in rural settlements.

“Wild meat 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 birds, rodents and other species is particularly risky to consume,” says ILRI scientist Ekta Patel.

The study also examined local perceptions of risks associated with wild meat consumption, with respondents recognising the risk of transmission of anthrax and brucellosis, among other zoonoses.

They further agreed that high disease risk was associated with people with open wounds slaughtering wild animals and handling wild meat while recognising that meat from wild animals as more dangerous than meat from farm animals.

Only hyena meat consumption was cited by the respondents as the riskiest.

Ungulates (a hoofed typically herbivorous quadruped mammal (such as a pig, cow, deer) were found to be the most consumed species, followed by birds, rodents and shrews.

To ensure the continued use of wildlife resources by those who depend on them, sustainable hunting, marketing and consumption practices must be implemented.

“The findings will inform public health strategies targeted at community inclusion and disease behavioral campaigns, particularly in lower-income countries where wild meat trade and consumption remain prevalent,” says the study.

The research recommended that the government focus on better controlling zoonotic disease transmission risks through community engagements on behavior change interventions, improving hygiene and standards of informal markets, supporting wildlife conservation efforts and providing communities with alternative protein sources.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from ILRI, the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), the global wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and Nature Heritage and the Wildlife Research Training Institute.