News / Health

    US Researchers Examine Camel Milk Risks

    Experts estimate that about four million Kenyans drink unpasteurized camel milk on a regular basis. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)
    Experts estimate that about four million Kenyans drink unpasteurized camel milk on a regular basis. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)
    Camels are known for their ability to travel long distances across the desert without water, but they’re also becoming an increasingly important source of milk for people in drought-prone regions.

    That includes East African countries like Kenya, where populations of camels, the single-humped kind technically known as dromedaries, have grown rapidly over the past few decades. 
     
    Unpasteurized camel milk 

    But introducing camels, or any species, to a new region could mean bringing in new diseases, so researchers are studying camel diseases in Kenya to try to assess the risks.

    The camels at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya might sound fierce and, at more than two meters tall, adult dromedaries can be pretty intimidating. But Margaret Kinnaird, Mpala’s executive director, says they don’t deserve their reputation for meanness.

    “I’ve never been spat on, I’ve never been bitten, I’ve only been sort of gummed and kissed,” she said.

    A couple of years ago, Kinnaird began a project on camel health with Sharon Deem, who directs the Institute for Conservation Medicine at the Saint Louis Zoo in Missouri.

    “Camels may have some diseases that, as the human population reaches for camel milk, these diseases could be passed to them,” Deem said.
    A man pours camel milk in Kenya. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)A man pours camel milk in Kenya. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)
    x
    A man pours camel milk in Kenya. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)
    A man pours camel milk in Kenya. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)

    A growing number of Kenyans are drinking camel milk, most of it unpasteurized.

    “These are estimates, but we really believe that up to 10 percent of Kenya’s 40 million people, so we’re talking four million people, probably drink unpasteurized camel milk,” Deem said.

    New arrivals

    Camels are not native to Kenya. But Kinnaird estimates that over the past 30 years, their number has grown to about three million.

    Many have been brought in by immigrants from neighboring countries like Somalia and Sudan, where people have traditionally kept camels. Kenyan ranchers are turning to camels because of their ability to survive with limited water.

    “People are learning that they can have camels persist throughout some very severe droughts, where they tend to lose all of their cattle, or a large majority of their cattle,” Kinnaird said.

    Unlike cattle and goats, camels can continue producing substantial quantities of milk under drought conditions, which climate scientists predict will become more severe and frequent in Kenya in the future. 

    "So, I would imagine that given climate change, the role of camels is bound to be even more important than it has been before for those who live in these areas,” said Amos Omore, with the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi.

    Disease control

    With camels becoming more common in Kenya, as well as a significant source of nutrition, Sharon Deem, of the Saint Louis Zoo, believes it’s critical to find out what diseases they might be spreading.

    When she began her research on camels, she really didn’t know much about them, so she started hitting the books.

    “I became, very quickly, sort-of a camel expert," Deem said. "And I think that first field season I was maybe one of the best camel vets in Kenya.”

    That unusual expertise helped Deem gain the trust of some local herders, who were eager to have her check out their camels.

    Deem and her colleagues decided to focus on three diseases: brucellosis, trypanosomiasis, and Q fever.

    They chose those diseases not only because they could spread to people who drink unpasteurized milk, but because they might also infect Kenya’s abundant wildlife species, like zebras and elephants.

    Health risk

    With start-up funding from the St. Louis-based animal health and nutrition company Novus International, Deem worked with Margaret Kinnaird and local ranchers to test 150 camels over the course of two years. They collected blood, fecal, and tick samples.

    Video showing wildlife veterinarian Sharon Deem of the Saint Louis Zoo drawing blood from a camel at the Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya.

    Drawing Blood from a Camel at Mpala Research Centrei
    X
    May 23, 2013 4:11 PM
    In this video taken in June, 2011, wildlife veterinarian Sharon Deem of the Saint Louis Zoo draws blood from a camel at the Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya. (Credit: Saint Louis Zoo)

    The testing didn’t turn up much brucellosis or trypanosomiasis, according to Deem, but almost a third of the camels, and more than half the ticks, tested positive for Q fever, a bacterial disease that can be fatal in humans.

    “So we really feel that Q fever in camels could be very important in this region,” she said.

    The next step for Deem and her team will be to take a closer look at Q fever and how it is affecting livestock, people, and wildlife.

    She also wants to keep working with Kenyan ranchers on what she calls “camel 101,” basic steps to keep their herds healthy.

    Related photo gallery

    • Veterinary technician Nicholas Karubiu and two dromedaries at the Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia District, Kenya. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)
    • Veterinary technician Nicholas Karubiu (right) and Mpala livestock manager Jerimiah Leting prepare to collect blood from a dromedary. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)
    • Dromedaries are herded to a weighing station at the Mpala Research Centre. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)
    • A camel gives the lead herder at Mpala, Stephen Moso, an affectionate nuzzle. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)
    • Vital Milk Camel Ltd. in Nanyuki is the only camel milk pasteurization plant in Kenya. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)
    • Milk from the camel herd at Mpala is poured into carrier tanks and transported by motorcycle to Kenya's only pasteurization plant. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)
    • At a ranch near Mpala, Margaret Kinnaird takes notes about a camel sick with trypanosomiasis as the herder manager looks on. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)
    • A herder prepares to lead a group of female dromedaries to a weighing station at Mpala. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)
    • Dromedaries at the Mpala Research Centre. (Sharon Deem, Saint Louis Zoo)

    You May Like

    Syrian Rebel Realignment Likely as al-Qaida Leader Blesses Split

    Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra splits from al-Qaida in what observers dub a ‘deception and denial’ exercise

    New India Child Labor Law Could Make Children More Vulnerable

    Concerns that allowing children to work in family enterprises will push more to work

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    Carry-out food explains a lot about the changes taking place in society, so here's the deal with pizza, Chinese food and what racism has to do with taking food to go

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora