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Amid Ebola Scare, Nigeria Shuns Dancing Monkeys, Bush Meat

A woman prepares soup to sell on a street in Lagos, Nigeria, Aug. 7, 2014.

Nigeria is cracking down on hunting and discouraging the use of wild animals for entertainment to stave off the spread of Ebola. But as the busy hunting season approaches at the end of the summer rains, some hunters say regardless of the risk, they will go back to work.

In Kaduna, northern Nigeria Monday, six men from a remote village came to town with small baboons looking for an audience.

Usually when animal trainers come to the city, people flock to watch monkeys dance in trousers or baboons mimic farmers and herders.

But no one wanted to be near the animals.

“I can never, for now, allow even my children to go to watch either monkey or anything animal," said Shola Adebayo, a father of five explaining his decision to stay far away.

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Since July, when Nigeria recorded its first Ebola case, the government has conducted a massive nationwide campaign, encouraging sanitation and discouraging interaction with animals and “bush meat”, which can spread the disease to people, who pass it to each other through bodily fluids.

Nearly 1,400 people have died of Ebola since the outbreak began in February, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Over the weekend, the Democratic Republic of Congo was the fifth country to record Ebola deaths this year. However because Congo has identified a different strain of Ebola, some analysts say its outbreak may be unconnected to the West Africa outbreak.

Ahmed Maiyakim, a spokesman for the Kaduna State government, says his state is now enforcing already-in-place hunting bans to keep hunters away from animals and to halt the sale of bush meat.

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“We have a responsibility to safeguard the lives, the welfare of our people. So we are calling on them to abide by the provision of the law and ensure that we don’t get into things that are inimical to the society, things that is dangerous to your health. Things that can lead you to death," Maiyakim said.

According to hunters, enforcing this ban is not difficult when heavy rains keep most of them at home.

Musa Maibigidar, who makes his living hunting monkeys and other animals to be sold as meat at the market, says the local hunters’ union has agreed not to hunt for now, but they will go back to work when the weather is dry.

Maibigidar believes officials who say Ebola can be transmitted from animals to people - even though this has never happened in Nigeria, where people have been eating bush meat as long as anyone can remember.

Maibigidar says for now, people aren’t even buying bush meat for fear of Ebola. But like the hunters, he thinks people will eventually be more afraid of hunger than disease.