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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid