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Health and Environmental Concerns as Ugandans Start to Eat Primates



The flow of Congolese refugees into western Uganda is raising concerns not only about food security, but also the risk of the Ebola virus.

Eating primates is a Congolese custom, but monkeys, chimpanzees and other animals can carry the deadly virus. Disease experts are calling attention to the danger. So are environmental groups. That is because chimpanzees are endangered.

Lily Ajarova is the director of a chimpanzee refuge in Uganda. She says eating primates is not a traditional food in Uganda, but it is in Central and Western Africa. She said this is the biggest threat to their survival Dr. Monday Busuulwa is with the African Field Epidemiology Network. He says just handling the meat of infected primates can spread Ebola.

Lily Ajerova says she and her team have not yet found chimpanzees being eaten in Uganda, but they have seen other primates being eaten. She points out that in traditional Ugandan culture, primates are protected as totem animals, or animals representing a group.

But refugees from the west have brought their eating customs with them. Over the past year, tens of thousands of refugees have entered Uganda, fleeing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Daniel Molla of the United Nations World Food Program says most of these refugees live in organized settlements. But he says cuts in food aid have increased pressure on local communities as refugees buy food from the same markets as Ugandans. That means the meat of primates like chimpanzees could be consumed. Over the past year alone, Uganda has suffered from three deadly outbreaks of Ebola. The most recent outbreaks have happened in the west.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Carolyn Presutti. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 19Dec2012)

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