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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs