A new study has found that more than 5 tons of bushmeat slips through Paris’ main airport each week.
This is the first time experts have documented how much bushmeat is smuggled into any European city. According to the Huffington Post, the research has been published in the journal Conservation Letters.
Experts suspect this illegal trade is taking place in other European hubs also, which is a cause for concern. The introduction of diseases from monkeypox to Ebola to HIV-like viruses is a concern and yet another twist in the continent’s struggle to integrate a growing African immigrant population.
“Anecdotally we know it does happen … But it is quite surprising the volumes that are coming through,” said Marcus Rowcliffe, a research fellow of the Zoological Society of London and one of the study’s authors.
For those who know about it, bushmeat is on the menu in the Chateau Rouge neighborhood in central Paris.
Over a 17 day period in June 2008, European experts checked 29 Air France flights from Central and West Africa that landed at Paris’ Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport. Of 134 people searched, nine were carrying bushmeat and 83 had livestock or fish.
One passenger had 112 pounds of bushmeat and no other luggage. Most of the bushmeat was smoked and arrived as dried carcasses. Some animals were identifiable while others were not. In this situation scientists boiled the remains of the unidentifiable animals and reassembled their skeletons to determine their species.
Experts found 11 types of bushmeat, including monkeys, large rats, crocodiles, small antelopes, and pangolins, or anteaters. Almost 40 percent were listed with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
During the study, officials seized 414 pounds of bushmeat–researchers estimated about 5 tons of bushmeat get into Paris each week.
Under French law, penalties for importing illegal meats are light and rarely imposed. The maximum penalty is confiscation of the goods and a $556 fine. Of the passengers searched in the study, only one person with bushmeat was actually fined.
Bushmeat is widely eaten and sold in Central and West Africa, with Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Republic of Congo being the main sources.
In Kenya a bushmeat ban is enforced; however, it is legal in most parts of the Republic of Congo where hunters may stalk wildlife parks that aren’t heavily guarded. The practice remains widespread despite several outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus linked to eating bushmeat.
“If you have intimate contact with a wild animal–and eating is pretty intimate contact–then you could be exposed to all kinds of diseases,” warned Malcolm Bennett, of Britain’s National Centre for Zoonosis Research at the University of Liverpool, who was not linked to the study.
Bennett said bushmeat had a higher risk of bacteria like Salmonella and may also be carrying new diseases.
Nina Marano, chief of the quarantine unit at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said similar underground markets for bushmeat exist across America.
“We have to be culturally sensitive and recognize this is important for some African communities,” she said. “But there are no regulations for the preparation of meat from wildlife to render it safe.”
Prices for bushmeat can be as high as $18 per pound, double what ordinary supermarket meats cost.
“It’s like buying the best cut of organically grown beef,” Rowcliffe said, adding that bushmeat like giant rats and porcupine, which he has tasted, has a strong, gamey flavor.
Image from The Animals’ Voice (cropped)
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