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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened 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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid