BOUAKE, Ivory Coast: West Africa’s first outbreak of Ebola fever is bad news for gourmets in Ivory Coast, but brings respite from the hunter to species sought out for tasty meat but feared to carry the disease.
Late in March, Health Minister Raymonde Goudou Coffie called for her compatriots to stop eating porcupines and agoutis, which look like large river-rats, “until we can be sure there are no risks.”
Bushmeat is known to be a vector of Ebola, the alarming hemorrhagic fever that has claimed at least 122 lives in Guinea, according to a United Nations World Health Organization toll on April 17. Liberia, meanwhile, reported 13 deaths.
Hunters and restaurant owners in the central Ivorian town of Bouake are upset that clients have begun to steer clear of the strong taste of the agouti, a beast with a long snout and brown fur that can reach half a meter (1.6 feet) in length.
Last week, the minister’s recommendation was still going unheeded or ignored by some traders and hunters in Bouake’s main bushmeat market. One hunter openly carried a dead rodent.
Emile, a customer in his 40s who seemed slightly tipsy, asked for “Ebola meat,” meaning braised agouti. “Ebola can’t survive alcohol or hot water,” claimed the scarred Rigobeli, who had just eaten a large meal.
But such scenes are swiftly becoming a thing of the past. An official ban on bushmeat – including antelopes, chimpanzees and porcupines as well as agoutis – has been enforced and a week later, the Bouake market was empty.
State officials from the water and forestry service and in the health sector are patrolling the whole country in search of offenders. They recently burned 200 kilos (440 pounds) of smoked game found in the capital Yamoussoukro.
The stakes are high. Wild animals are carriers of often deadly hemorrhagic fevers, including Ebola for which there is no medical cure. The fruit bat has been singled out as a likely vector in the west African outbreak.
People subsequently contaminate each other by direct contact with blood, bodily fluids and the tissue of infected patients, including dead ones during their burial.
The current strain of Ebola kills 90 percent of its victims and suspect cases have been reported in Sierra Leone and Mali, while Senegal has closed its border with Guinea.
Fear of the disease runs high in Ivory Coast, another of Guinea’s neighbors, though no cases have yet been reported. People have begun to listen to official warnings and instructions.