Justin Brashares, a conservation ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has worked in bushmeat research for nearly a decade. When he was in New York two years ago, sitting in the back of a cab driven by a Ghanaian, they got talking about the wild meats of Ghana.
“You must miss it,” Brashares remembers saying.
“Well, I don’t really miss it,” the cab driver replied, “because I can get it.”
Thus began a research project in which African expatriate volunteers were recruited to cruise a local bushmeat market in New York, London, Brussels, Paris, Toronto, Montreal and Chicago, reporting back the kinds, conditions and quantities of African wild meat on offer.
Besides helping to wipe out wildlife, this trade is an obvious public health risk. It also shows that in spite of the billions spent on homeland security, borders are as porous as ever.
Many diseases are zoonoses. Recent examples include Ebola, Marburg, West Nile Virus, Avian Flu, and HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS jumped the species barrier to man most likely because chimpanzees and sooty mangabays were eaten as bushmeat. The increased consumption of bushmeat makes it more likely that other, as yet unknown viruses, will become threats to human health.
Our fellow primates belong in their native habitats, not on the dining table.