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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs