Some 20,000 samples of small mammals and bats will be tested as part of a new study hoping to raise awareness of the risks posed by bushmeat in spreading diseases to humans, a Forestry Administration official said on Tuesday.
Chheang Dany, the Forestry Administration’s department of wildlife and biodiversity deputy director, said they began collecting the samples in 2017 from 150 locations across the Kingdom, and that most of the animals were bats and mice.
“We collected the samples from remote areas in the forest 50km from each other. To catch the mice, we placed traps in the forest,” he said, adding that the study is the first of its kind in Cambodia.
Bushmeat poses a huge risk of spreading diseases from wild animals to humans via consumption.
Globally, the most high profile example of this phenomenon is the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which is believed to have been spread to humans after they consumed the meat of primates infected with the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in West Africa in the early 20th century.
More recently, the devastating Ebola virus that decimated communities in West Africa between 2013 and 2016 is also believed to have started from the consumption of bushmeat, namely fruit bats, which are believed to be the most common carrier of the disease in the wild.
Dany said one purpose of the study was to draw people’s attention to what kind of meat they were consuming.
“When poorer people are living in bad conditions, they need to hunt animals in the forest because it is free and it’s their only choice. But we want to show them that you need to be careful when eating wildlife."
“We want to raise awareness among these communities as some animals could have viruses inside them. This study will result in an action plan to help resolve this issue,” he said.
Dany said the project was receiving international cooperation, and when infected animals are found, the samples will be sent to labs in Thailand, Singapore and Australia to be double checked and verified.
“We aren’t working alone. All the samples, when found to be positive [with viruses], will be sent abroad for verification before we issue warnings about the meat."
“We have support from universities in the US and the National University of Singapore, among other partners. We will release our findings either in the middle or end of this year,” he said.