News / Africa

Health Concerns Raised as Ugandans Add Primates to the Menu

A chimp reaches for food at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Uganda, November 8, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)
A chimp reaches for food at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Uganda, November 8, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)
Uganda's recent flood of Congolese refugees is having unexpected side-effects: some Ugandans are adopting the Congolese custom of eating primates, a new trend that may be linked to outbreaks of Ebola and represents a potential threat to the country's endangered chimpanzee population.
 
For some conservationists, protecting an animal that shares almost 99 percent of its DNA with humans is a deeply personal issue.
 
“In terms of relationship, you could have one who is really your close friend, while others tend to not bother so much," says Amos Okello, a caregiver at Lake Victoria's Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, who feeds an eager bunch of the highly intelligent creatures each morning.
 
Lily Ajarova, director of Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, is warning Ugandans of the dangers of eating primates, Nov. 8, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)Lily Ajarova, director of Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, is warning Ugandans of the dangers of eating primates, Nov. 8, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)
x
Lily Ajarova, director of Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, is warning Ugandans of the dangers of eating primates, Nov. 8, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)
Lily Ajarova, director of Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, is warning Ugandans of the dangers of eating primates, Nov. 8, 2012. (H. Heuler/VOA)
According to sanctuary director Lily Ajarova, while primate consumption is not unusual in Africa, Uganda has no history of the practice. Although her team has yet to find Ugandans eating chimpanzees in particular, they fear that Ugandans who are known eat various primates may soon go the way of their chimp-eating neighbors to the west.
 
"It’s an emerging issue that we are very keen to dig into right now," she says, explaining that hunters already pose the biggest threat to the continent's primate population. “We have encountered local Ugandans actually hunting primates and being in possession of them, and saying ... that ‘Yes, we are going to eat them.’
 
“The fear is that if they can eat a baboon, if they can eat a black-and-white colobus monkey, what would be the difference with eating a chimp?" she says. "In the case of chimpanzees, they are endangered, so they will actually go extinct from the face of the Earth if they are just eaten like that.”
 
Rising food prices
 
The timing of the trend is not coincidence. Over the past year alone, tens of thousands of Congolese refugees have streamed over Uganda’s western border, fleeing civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, expanding the already large number of fellow refugees that arrived in previous years.
 
According to Daniel Molla of the United Nations World Food Program, although most of the refugees live in organized settlements and buy food at local markets, reduced aid rations have increased demand for food, putting pressure on local communities.
 
“They do compete," he says of the marketplace consumers. "They do also go to the same markets to purchase food, so if you have host communities — poor households who have to rely on purchasing from the market — they would be facing possibly higher prices in the presence of a large refugee population.”
 
While rising food prices help to explain why Ugandans are seeking new sources of bush meat, health professionals continue to grapple with potential dangers of its widespread consumption. 

Ebola threat
 
Primates can carry Ebola, a virus that triggers a deadly hemorrhagic fever. Uganda saw three outbreaks of the disease in the last year alone.
 
According to Dr. Monday Busuulwa of the African Field Epidemiology Network, handling the animals can be very risky.
 
“In the 2007 Bundibugyo outbreak, they confirmed to us that they eat these primates," says the epidemiologist. "People who have slaughtered sick chimpanzees or gorillas which are infected with Ebola, they have ended up getting infected with Ebola. There is a very high likelihood that communities where people eat these non-human primates — the monkeys, the chimpanzees — are likely to get Ebola.”
 
Medical personal prepare isolation unit to care for victims following a new outbreak of Ebola, near Kampala, Uganda, Nov. 15, 2012.Medical personal prepare isolation unit to care for victims following a new outbreak of Ebola, near Kampala, Uganda, Nov. 15, 2012.
x
Medical personal prepare isolation unit to care for victims following a new outbreak of Ebola, near Kampala, Uganda, Nov. 15, 2012.
Medical personal prepare isolation unit to care for victims following a new outbreak of Ebola, near Kampala, Uganda, Nov. 15, 2012.
This fact, Busuulwa adds, may explain why most of Uganda’s recent Ebola outbreaks have occurred in the west, where the concentration of Congolese refugees is the highest.
 
"These communities have this history of eating non-human primates," he says, explaining that it not only exposes them to infection, but that symptoms are exacerbated by circumstances. "It’s possible that this civil unrest can also help in aggravating these outbreaks."
 
Loss of values
 
While environmental groups are trying to fight the trend by teaching people about conservation and the dangers of eating primates, sanctuary director Ajarova emphasizes the value of traditional Ugandan culture, in which primates are protected as totem animals, or animals representing a clan.
 
“This culture has been of great value for conservation, but I also feel we are at a point where, in Uganda, the current generation thinks that the Western culture is better, so we are losing our own culture," she says. "With that comes the loss of these values we had for conservation.”
 
The World Food Program warns that with more and more refugees arriving from Congo every day, food insecurity in western Uganda is likely to get worse, which is bad news for chimps and the humans who hunt them.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost-Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Sandy from: Sdney
December 10, 2012 12:49 AM
Why is this even legal and being allowed to happen?? (aside from being all about $$$$$)
Boycott Uganda until they wake up to themselves and realise in is 2012 and this is barbaric

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More