Deforestation & the Bushmeat Trade: A Symbiotic Relationship with Viral Side-Effects

Peter Brennan


The bushmeat trade is an unfortunate conservationist crisis with ramifications extending far beyond the potential extinction of a primate species and large-scale deforestation. The trade has allowed the zoonotic transmissions to humans from primates of such terrible viruses as Ebola and HIV. Specifically, there is concrete evidence that some of the 30-odd Simian Immunodeficiency Viruses affecting primates have been transmitted into the HIV-1 and HIV-2 strains which affect humans today. These SIVs have lived for so long in their primate hosts that they no longer cause immunodeficiency at all. However, since HIV only recently appeared in humans through the butchering in the bushmeat trade, our immune systems have not yet adapted to this primate lentivirus. Eating bushmeat has been common in Central Africa for some time, as the climatic and ecological conditions are too hostile for livestock, and protein must be taken from the forest’s bushmeat. Moreover, hunting bushmeat has become increasingly profitable, meaning hunters usually make at least the same amount as park rangers. However, the scale of bushmeat hunting has increased beyond sustainable levels with the rise in deforestation efforts, as the two operations seem to be somewhat symbiotic in their growth. In fact, many logging operations not only provide a valuable market and the roads required hunt and avoid park rangers, but even directly fund and supply hunters to feed their workers. Since the loggers stop in the forest to buy meat, and provide roads for sellers, the hunter need never transport his own meat, and is therefore never at risk of seizure. Indeed the endangerment of a species and the removal of up to 90% of the forests of Central Africa are tragedies to the environmentalist. But their link, the bushmeat trade, poses a more ominous threat to humanity than a treeless forest or a missing ape. It is that threat, the threat to human health, that might motivate most people to address the issue of bushmeat.


Related Reading

Peterson, D., " Eating Apes," Univ. of California Press, 2003, pp. 87-124 and p. 224.

(Peterson's book gives a detailed personal account of all aspects of the bushmeat trade, from the viral problems to the hunter's lives)

Nature Magazine, Feb. 4, 1999, "From Pan to Pandemic"

(This discusses the genetic similarty between SIVs and the HIVs)


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last updated 4/30/06