The Zambia Wildlife Authority reported that officials in that African nation recovered almost four and a half tons of assorted game meat found inside an abandoned truck in Luanshya, a copper mining town in the northern part of the country.
(A quick geography refresher: Zambia and neighboring nation of Zimbabwe were once part of the former British colony of Rhodesia in southern Africa. A country of about 14 million people living in often sparsely settled tropical highlands, Zambia is perhaps best known as the site of Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall).
According to the Zambia Daily Mail, Joyce Kasosa, Copperbelt province police commander, and Wildlife Authority regional warden Sydney Tembo confirmed the seizure from a truck on city streets.
“We have seized an assortment of game meat from a light truck that was abandoned in Luanshya,” Tembo said. He did not estimate the value of the game meat but said it was comprised of meat from both protected animals and other wildlife.
Kasosa said police have not yet made any arrests as the suspects are believed to have run away, but investigations have begun.
A double-barreled problem
There are two huge problems with this incident, which is repeated dozens of times a year across southern Africa. First of all, slaughtering endangered species, including monkeys, rhinos, antelope and less prominent mammals, such as badgers and even African wild dogs.
Along with habitat loss, the primary cause of the decimation of these species is illegal hunting and poaching, nearly always to procure meat and horns for sale to foreign brokers. In addition, the hunting and trapping of smaller rodents and mammals for sustenance deprives several avian species of their food sources. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, storks, cranes and even vultures native to southern Africa are considered threatened.
Hunting and poaching to sell off the meat only exacerbates a crisis already compounded by less of habitat and insufficient investment in preserves and parks that could reverse that trend.
More importantly, there is the problem of the deadly Ebola virus. According to the most recent warnings from the UN’s World Health Organization, the Ebola virus one of the vectors of the virus is the indiscriminate consumption of game meat, also known in the “trade” as bush meat.
One of the solutions to the problem of killing wildlife and selling bush meat on the black market is an obvious one: Develop modern methods of livestock production in those countries where poaching and illegal hunting tend to be concentrated. Without both an alternative source of income and an alternative source of food, too many indigent people in some of Africa’s poorest countries will still trap and shoot all kinds of wildlife, either to sell the meat/pelts/horns/tusks or to provide some sustenance for themselves and their families.
With more than half of all the people contracting Ebola succumbing to the virus’ potent combination of headaches, fever, lack of appetite, often accompanied by severe joint pain, there is concern that this current outbreak could be the worst ever.
Just this week, the World Health Organization last week called the more than 2,100 Ebola cases and 1,060 deaths confirmed so far a number that “vastly underestimates” the scale of the outbreak. Even as photos and video clips of medical personnel dressed for what looks like a moon landing cart patients (and bodies) through the often poorly staffed clinics treating Ebola victims, a leading authority on the ground offered a depressing prediction.
“This is the biggest outbreak in terms of numbers that we have ever seen,” Dr. Mwayabo Kazadi, a physician working with the Catholic Relief Services in Sierra Leone, told an NBC News correspondent. “When you don’t have a proper health system in place, it is pretty difficult to control this disease.”
An official with Doctors without Borders confirmed Kazadi’s gloomy analysis. As the disease spreads from remote rural areas to crowded urban neighborhoods, Bart Janssens, operations director for the organization, told the Associated Press that the epidemic is now “totally out of control,” especially since there is no fully reliable treatment and no cure to dat.
Of course, even if livestock production could be doubled—or tripled—across Africa, it wouldn’t put a dent in the current Ebola outbreak. But there is no reason that even the poorest person in Africa should be forced ( or persuaded) to hunt down wildlife—whether or not the animals might be infected with Ebola—as a means of generating income or sustenance.
Not when most African nations would benefit greatly from the economic development livestock production would provide.
Already, investors and speculators are buying up vast tracts of land across southern and eastern Africa, with the idea that the world’s need for food will soon provide entrepreneurs the opportunity to capitalize on cheap land and even cheaper labor. Most of those business models are predicated on the cultivation of corn, wheat, rice and soybeans as primary food crops.
That’s a vital development, and not just for Africa’s many millions suffering from hunger and poor nutrition. But let’s hope that some of that harvest finds its way into modern, efficient feedyards and growout houses.
That would address a number of critical issues that affect more than just food sufficiency.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.