Since the outbreak of the deadly disease in Nigeria, many suggestions and opinions on the best way to curtail the spread of the Ebola Virus have been made. We commend the efforts of the Government as well as the other international agencies for the prompt response and measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus.
While we appreciate and support the need to refrain from having an animal to human contact with some animals that are believed to be carriers/vectors of the Ebola Virus such as fruit bats and primate, we are totally concerned and disturbed by persistent calls by some individuals and groups in recent times to kill all the wild animals believed to be vectors of the Ebola Virus in the country.
As a reputable conservation group with a core mandate and mission to preserve the full range of Nigeria's biodiversity (which includes species, ecosystems and genetic biodiversity), it is our duty to enhance, encourage, promote and ensure sustainable management and protection of the vast array of the country's natural resources in the event of human-induced activities.
The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (EHF), is a severe, often fatal illness in humans. The Virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
Although contagious, EVD is not nearly as contagious as Influenza or Measles, both of which are easily spread through the air. Ebola by comparison, is transmitted through direct contact with body fluids (blood, saliva, semen, vomit, urine, sweat, feces, or other secretions of an infected person and soiled linen used by a patient) in much the same way as HIV or HEPATITIS B.
The virus can also be transmitted through contact with objects, such as needles that have been contaminated with infected secretions. Ebola can neither be contracted through water, air nor food. The natural reservoir of the virus is unknown and it is not always clear how the virus first appears in humans. Usually the first person gets infected through contact with an infected animal.
The outbreak first emerged in Nzara, Sudan in 1976 infecting over 284 people with a mortality rate of 53 percent. The second reported case of the Ebola Virus emerged from Yambuku, Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with the highest mortality rate of 88 per cent in which 318 people were infected. The third reported case was first identified in 1989 when infected monkeys were imported into Reston, Virginia, from Mindanao in the Philippines, while the last known strain of Ebola was discovered in 1994 when a female ethologist performing a necropsy on a dead chimpanzee from Tai Forest, Cote d'Ivorie accidentally infected herself during the process.
The recent outbreak in 2014 was first reported in Guinea in February and spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone and now in Lagos, Nigeria.
Research reports on Ebola throughout Ebola’s “hot spots,” through monitoring of great ape health, collecting diagnostic samples, and teaching Ebola prevention awareness in at-risk communities in Central Africa countries indicate that in the majority of cases, humans have contracted Ebola Virus after being in contact with infected wildlife.
It is also affirmed that the virus spreads via contact with the bodily fluids or tissues of infected humans and animals, living or dead. So, the call for the killing of all fruit bats, forest antelopes, porcupines and monkeys/apes by certain individuals and groups is not only cruel but condemnable and totally unethical because of the likely ecological consequences now and in future.
The Nigerian Conservation Foundation has tried to discourage the hunting and consumption of wildlife for decades, to no avail. The attitude of Nigerians to wild animals is that something to be killed, and if edible to be eaten. This has contributed greatly to the continuing wholesale loss and near-total depletion of key species of wildlife in the country.
It is quite unfortunate that we as a people usually learn our lessons in a hard way as preliminary surveys of major bush meat markets indicate that sales have dropped as a result of reduced hunting of wild animals since the reported outbreak of Ebola in Nigeria. Why should it then be that the only way Nigerians will refrain from eating bush meat and other unsustainable utilization of natural resources is when their lives are in danger?
In this situation as we currently find ourselves, NCF believes education is key to protecting remote communities living in Ebola prone regions, and providing local people, most importantly, hunters and healthcare professionals-with information on the precautions necessary to avoid contamination as a simple and effective measure to prevent further spread. This is the time to distribute posters, pamphlets, and other education and awareness aids to remote villages especially forested and forest-edge communities.
We at the NCF and other environmental groups in the country will need more government support to visit local communities for informal discussions regarding Ebola and other zoonotic diseases. As it is being done in some other countries, it has become imperative to establish Animal Health Monitoring Network, which encourages the rapid reporting of, and prompt response to wildlife mortalities, with a focus on hunters, who are typically the first people to encounter deceased vector-animals: great apes/monkeys, porcupines, fruit bats, forest antelopes etc.
In addition, our scientists and veterinary doctors must develop a non-invasive method of determining whether an animal has been exposed to Ebola by testing the animal’s feces. Also, identifying animal outbreaks through monitoring and novel diagnostic tests will inform researchers as to how the virus is spreading and in what direction, thus, serving as a warning system to the public health authorities in the country.
Rather than killing animals as a preventive measure, we are suggesting a thorough examination of the behavior of great apes and other forest animals via camera traps, exploring how vaccines against Ebola that are developed for humans might also protect the animals from this deadly disease. It may be possible to administer the vaccine to the wild great apes orally. A photographic dataset will provide clues to the manner in which the disease might spread between forest species.
Today it is Ebola, tomorrow it may be another zoonotic issue. Nigerians should take pride in viewing their wildlife resources as part of the God given assets which should be utilised for healthy living and socio-economic development, rather than uncontrolled consumption which can now only be dissuaded by deadly disease such as Ebola Virus.
This is a wake-up call to all and sundry for us to be more alive to our responsibility of ensuring that we don't bequeath current challenges to incoming generations but to think and take hard route to find lasting solutions to the scourges including Ebola.