What is being done to prevent future outbreaks of Ebola?

Answer by Rory Young:

A few people have gathered in Guinea to do something  that doesn't make big headlines and costs very little, yet is the most obvious way to prevent future outbreaks.

Unfortunately all the big news is about the billions of dollars being spent on defeating the outbreak and finding a cure and even more unfortunately nearly all the money is going into dealing with the effect and not the cause. People have for the most part forgotten that this virus originated with a bat poached and butchered in unhygienic conditions and which infected the first victim, a two-year-old child in Guinea.

Whilst the world is pouring gazillions into producing a vaccine, thirty senior officers from the Ministère des Eaux et Forets, along with representatives of other law enforcement agencies, are undergoing the first anti poaching training ever held in Guinea, in order to become anti poaching trainers themselves, so that they may in turn train another five hundred men as soon as possible. It will cost about one millionth of the cost of producing vaccines. Literally.

Whilst vaccines are important, it is important to also do the obvious; educate people not to handle bats and other animals and put an end to the illegal bushmeat trade.

This is not the first time that diseases oringinating from poached or illegally captured animals have sent the world's health services into overdrive. There have been many others, most notably HIV/AIDS, SARS, bird-flu and marburg virus, all related directly to poaching or the trade in captive wild animals. What is cheaper? To prevent outbreaks such as these by protecting our environment and people from each other or by spending more on treatments?

There will be many more new and deadly outbreaks too, as long as the world continues to do next to nothing about the ongoing wreckless abuse of the environment. This is not something the world can turn away from. Just as Al Qaeda reached into everyone's living room in the United States from the other end of the world and tore their hearts out, so too will tragedy attack from afar, again and again, the world over, in the form of diseases quietly waiting their opportunity to find new unsuspecting victims.

The overall training has been funded by the United Nations Office for Project Services and the European Union, and the trainer has been provided by Chengeta Wildlife and Lion ALERT. I am the trainer and am in Guinea right now working with UNOPS and the Guinean government, preparing the equipment, security protocols and logistics necessary to travel as soon as possible to Haut Niger National Park and begin the training.

It is an intensive course that will last five weeks and will cover all aspects of wildlife protection. The officers will undergo a period of lessons in theory, followed by practical training and then finally "in ops" training in the field. It is a mir

Some would say that it is too late, but then they don't know what else is lurking out there. If we don't protect our environment we will have wasted the warning that is the current outbreak. Next time will be worse because it will be different. Nature is warning us and we need to listen and act appropriately.

Our work has been funded by private donations from normal people. No celebs. No billionaires. If you would like to know more about our work please visit Page on chengetawildlife.org or
 It's time to stop the killing

What is being done to prevent future outbreaks of Ebola?

Is it realistic or desirable to ask Africans to stop eating bushmeat?

Answer by Rory Young:

The hunting and preparation of bush meat is not considered wrong for all people at all times. Areas are set aside for traditional hunting and there are very clear restrictions on what weapons can be used and what species can be taken. Bats are not allowed by law to be hunted in many countries, and are discouraged in many others. Considering the latest separate two outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa and the most recent outbreak of Marburg Virus in Uganda, it is most likely and understandable that more countries will enact legislation banning the hunting and consumption of bats.

In a traditional setting, the animals are hunted for personal consumption and usually in remote locations. In the case of a disease outbreak villages in an affected area would cut themselves off from all contact with neighbours, effectively quarantining the virus. In some regions an infected family would be given food and water and then a line would be drawn around their home. They would be forbidden from crossing the line until the disease was clearly finished its progress.

The situation now however has changed dramatically. Poachers are travelling to wildlife areas, killing and transporting and selling meat to the city people on an industrial scale. The wildlife populations cannot sustain the pressure and are rapidly being wiped out. Furthermore, as the world has discovered too late, the lack of hygiene and contact with blood and other fluids of wild animals means that diseases make the leap from animals to man. It happens often and sometimes, as in the case of HIV from hunted monkeys and Ebola from hunted bats, it is deadly and could devastate the entire planet.

It is not unreasonable in the slightest to expect Africans to eat meat that has been produced both in a sustainable and an hygienic manner. It certainly doesn't mean that they have to eat Western food either. Game meat can and is produced in many parts of Africa. The production though is carefully regulated and policed, and there are stringent regulations relating to the processing and sale of any game meat. Interestingly, the carrying capacity of the land is up to ten times greater for indigenous game than for cattle and other livestock.

Whether everyone can be fed meat in Africa or where their protein can or could potentially come from is another matter entirely. What is absolutely certain is that unless Africa's population slows and we find ways of responsibly managing our natural resources we are heading for a calamity much greater than the current Ebola outbreak.

I am in Guinea right now. I sit every day and discuss exactly these questions with the most senior government officials responsible for natural resources and their protection. With Ebola on all our minds constantly, there is no question whatsoever that anyone can or should be allowed to hunt and sell bat meat.

Is it realistic or desirable to ask Africans to stop eating bushmeat?

What measures are African governments taking to prevent bushmeat harvested by poachers from reaching their native populations?

Answer by Rory Young:

The measures being taken vary drastically from country to country and the attitude towards the commercial harvesting of bushmeat is changing rapidly and at different rates, in different countries, both in favour of and against the commercial harvesting of bushmeat.

I will focus on my own direct personal observations this year in two highly affected countries that will serve to well illustrate my point.

The recent and ongoing upheaval in the Central African Republic has resulted in hudreds of thousands of people fleeing to neighbouring countries, possibly as many as twenty five percent of the population. These include non-mulsims fleeing ex-Séléka dominated areas and muslims fleeing anti-balaka dominated areas.

The single most affected group are the Fula or "Peuhl" peoples. The mainly Sudanese and Chadian mercenaries of  the ex-Séléka committed horrific atrocities against the non-muslims during their time in power and when they withdrew in the face of masive popular revolt, the anti-balaka chose the largely innocent Fula people to wreak revenge upon. This was simply because the Fula happen to also be muslims.

A muslim family fleeing the violence in Central African Republic (Rory Young, 2014)

The muslims fled South, driving their cattle before them. For centuries the Fula have supllied the other ethnic groups of the region with beef in exchange for manioc, grains and other goods. These other ethnic groups are used to a high level of protein in their diets.

Initially the price of beef went down and the consumption went up as many Fula sold cattle for a pittance to pay for their escape. However, as the Fula moved out, the supply of beef began to slow and then to dwindle, and people people began to look elsewhere. They most especially went after bushmeat, on an industrial scale.

A Ba'aka pygmy hunter. The Ba'aka have traditionally supplied game meat to other ethnic groups in exchange for metal implements and other goods. (Rory Young 2014)

In such a situation the authorities have no choice but to accept an increase in illegal bushmeat. The alternative is malnutrition. However, the change in diet from beef, high in fat and a more varied diet from more widespread trade of different foods to a diet limited mostly to very lean bushmeat and manioc.  There has been a widespread problem of deficiences. Not as bad though as complete starvation or malnutrition that would have been even more widespread than it has been had the government blocked all bushmeat trade. In fact, the knowledge that it eases the pressure on the government to feed its people means that a blind eyes is turned to the trade.

The situation in Guinea, in West Africa, is quite different. The Ebola outbreak here has brought the commercial bushmeat and other environmental problems into sharp focus, not only locally, but internationally as well. Efforts are underway to ensure the chances or futher outbreaks linked to poor hygiene practices and the illegal commercial bushmeat trade are lowered as much as possible.

The main market of Madina in Conakry, Guinea, where bushmeat has in the past been brought and sold. (Rory Young, 2014)

The laws and policies to deter and police the illegal bushmeat trade already exist in most countries. However, the will, resources and skills necessary to enforce those laws have not always been available. That situation is changing, albeit in a still limited manner.

I am in Guinea right now to train and advise the Minsitry of Water and Forests officers in wildlife protection and anti poaching law enforcement. A very important part of the training and operations here is necessarily education. There has simply not been any policing in the past and therefore it would be unreasonable to suddenly start arresting people for what many will not even realise is a crime. It is therefore important to begin by teaching people where they can legally hunt for food, which species, under what conditions and how to do so safely and hygienically.

Commercial bushmeat operations on the other hand will be shut down as quickly as possible.

I often wonder what would happen should one of the innumerable containers of illegal bushmeat, including pangolins, monkeys and other species that are flooding into China were to cause an outbreak or Ebola or some other disease there. Would China and the rest of the world then take the threats of the illegal commercial bushmeat trade seriously? They certainly aren't doing so right now.

During the recent meetings between the American and Chinese leaders at which agreements on on carbon emissions were reached, it seems no mention was made of the devastating involvement by China in the illegal ivory, rhino horn and bushmeat trades. Do they really not see the devastation that has been wrought by Ebola, HIV, Marburg, SARS, Corona virus, Bird-Flu and the very clear link to the unhygienic and illegal trade in wildlife and endangered species? Is it because the deaths mostly occur in Africa? Well, the news is, disease, like terrorism and every other threat facing our planet, respects no borders.

What measures are African governments taking to prevent bushmeat harvested by poachers from reaching their native populations?

Is eating wild game such a substantial risk for Ebola that people in West and Central Africa should actually stop hunting for wild game?

Answer by Rory Young:

No, they should not. The problem is not traditional hunting for the pot, it is the uncontrolled and unhygienic commercial bushmeat trade.

Unlike traditional hunting, which involves small numbers of people in usually isolated areas, the commercial bushmeat trade involves massive amounts of meat from all types of wildlife being processed and transported to cities in completely unsanitary and unhygienic conditions. This is an ongoing threat to the world's health and to the environment. More and more of this illegal meat is being exported to China and other parts of Asia.

Although the traditional hunting is controlled by law, those laws are rarely enforced. Many species, such as bats are not allowed to be hunted. There are also restrictions in the location where animals may be hunted, in what quantities and there are rules for handling the meat. There is an urgent need to curb the regional and overseas bushmeat trade as soon as possible and to enforce the rules for legal hunting.

I am currently in Guinea working with UN OPS, the Guinea Ministry of Water and Forests to train officers in wildlife protection, the enforcement of the laws mentioned and in educating the local communities. This work has been funded by private donations from normal people. No celebs. No billionaires. If you would like to know more about our work please visit Page on chengetawildlife.org or
 It's time to stop the killing

Is eating wild game such a substantial risk for Ebola that people in West and Central Africa should actually stop hunting for wild game?

Anomie’s Child

Post by Rory Young:

I'm off to Guinea tomorrow for six weeks to conduct wildlife protection courses for parks and military personnel.
Yes, I know Guinea is an "Ebola country". The work has been organized by UN OPS and all precautions will be taken. I will not be going near any sick people and will be monitored daily by the government health department on my return.
The work is important. It needs to be done. I will not be taking unnecessary risks. Thank you to all Quorans For a Cause, Chengeta Wildlife and Lion Alert supporters for your support and thank you to my beautiful family for sacrificing your husband and father for yet another long, worrying time.
Unfortunately I will not be able to access the internet, but if I do get the chance I will try to answer questions
Peace, love and happiness to you all!
Rory

Anomie’s Child

How will the rhino/elephant slaughter in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Kenya be stopped?

Answer by Rory Young:

There needs to be a convergence of several factors.

The first is political will. If the leadership  of a country is not prepared to do whatever it reasonably can to bring it under control then it will very likely be a losing battle. The government is obviously the most powerful organization in any country, able to mobilize resources and services,  to educate and motivate the population and to enact laws and penalties. This is the single most important factor. Malawi, where Chengeta Wildlife is funding training, is determined to win. The new government there is quickly trying to do whatever it can to deal with the poaching crisis.

The second is resources. Elephant and rhino poachers are earning big money and are well equipped and motivated by large sums of cash. They have usually come from a background in an armed service and are expereinced. They are actively trying not to be captured or killed and therefore the rangers who pursue them have to be even better equipped and trained, with ample fuel and rations to get to where they need to be at the right time. Unfortunately, resources are lacking almost everywhere. I have worked with dedicated rangers in the past who went barefoot, had no packs, waterbottles or other equipment and minimal or  no rations. Many are not even paid. Even with the most dedicated men only so much can be done without the right equipment. In the case of Malawi, it is one of the world's poorest countries. They simply do not have money to spend. They need financial assistance in this from other, wealthier, nations.

The third is doctrine. Unless the department and its rangers know how to take down whole syndicates, at every step of the poaching process, even with the political will and with excellent resources allocated, it will be difficult to win. They have to have strategies, knowledge, training and procedures that are harmonized from the man on the ground all the way up to the top commander and in cooperation with other agencies. The Malawians have partnered with Lion Alert and Chengeta Wildlife to get the most pragmatic and effective training possible done as quickly.

Ideally, political will, sufficient resources and an effective and intelligent doctrine are needed. I have yet to see that happening anywhere..

How will the rhino/elephant slaughter in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Kenya be stopped?

What does it feel like to find a dead rhino or elephant that has been killed by poachers?

Answer by Rory Young:

During anti poaching operations I try to suppress any emotions mind and focus on the job at hand. That is not always easy or even possible. Sometimes the emotions come out later, especially when I return home to my family.

When the carcass is fresh, it is crucial to secure the area and quickly build a profile of the tracks before launching a tracking pursuit of the poachers. This also has to be coordinated with mobile apprehension teams, stop groups, observation posts, headquarters, et al. Other authorities also have to be advised. As I am usually engaged in “in-ops training”, that means I am both involved in the operation and instructing. Therefore, thankfully,  I am very busy and able avoid thinking about it.

It is very difficult when you have found a beautiful animal butchered and know, for whatever reason, that the poachers are long gone and you are too late to follow. At such times I feel a mixture of sadness, anger and frustration. I try to calm those emotions and channel them into determination and dedication.

The worst time of all for me is when everything slows and you have time to think. The fatigue, anger and after-adrenaline as well as all the thoughts and memories can be overwhelming. I think the following picture shows just all of that on the faces of Malawian rangers I was working with recently.

On these operations, although we were able to successfully pursue and arrest poacher gangs, we also came across a dead rhino. He was a sub-adult bull. He had died as a result of wounds from a snare around his neck and from injuries inflicted on him by an older bull.  There were no poachers to follow so we had a lot of time to examine the scene and to think about it all before moving on.

It was tough. The men had been training hard for weeks and were excited about using their newly learnt skills in the field. This threw a huge blanket of negativity over everybody, especially since there were no poachers to pursue. It was also an important opportunity for everyone to realise that at such times we can only use the memories created to drive us on later when the going gets really tough, after days without sleep, without food, thirsty and dirty. Those are the times to remeber these horrible, frustrationg images and use the emotions to grit one’s teeth and get up and go once again.

Rangers all respond differently. Believe it or not, some don’t even care. However, that doesn’t mean they are not effective and professional. Some are motivated byt different reasons. It is not my place to judge them. As long as they are effective and dedicated to getting the job done, that is enough for me. Others are openly angry and will let their feelings be known. Usually the men are silent when the carcass is found and for a long time afterwards. Words are meaningless at such times.