According to Hicks, monkey meat is common in bush meat stalls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central Africa in general, with red-tailed and crowned guenons, baboons and agile mangabeys being the most common.
Due to the close genetic make-up of humans and nonhuman primates, such as monkeys, we run the risk of passing life-threatening diseases from species to species.
“Their blood and biology is very similar to ours and therefore it is easy for zoonotic diseases such as viruses and bacteria to leap from them into us and vice versa," Hicks told GlobalMeatNews. "We are quite dangerous to wild chimpanzees as well, transmitting to them diseases for which they have little resistance."
However, Hicks, who is currently studying a population of chimpanzees based at The Faculty of the Artes Liberales at University of Warsaw and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig in Germany, said that Africa should not be singled out.
“Animal agriculture and factory farming, as well as bush meat markets across the world, put humans in close contact with large numbers of animals living in very unhealthy conditions. These are very propitious conditions to promote the spread of animal diseases into humans.”
The primatologist has highlighted that there have already been instances where diseases have jumped from species to species. According to Hicks, HIV originated from the virus SIV chimpanzee in Central Africa about 100 years ago: “This probably happened because forests were being cleared at an increasing pace and thousands of chimpanzees were slaughtered for bush meat or to provide for labs in the USA and elsewhere.
“The increased human contact with chimpanzees led to SIV chimpanzee mutating into what is today HIV-1. Ebola may also be spread by the consumption of primates; although it kills them just as it kills us, it can be contracted from their dead bodies.”
Hicks recognised that an ideal opportunity for viruses to transfer between humans and monkeys was when hunters come into direct contact with primate blood, which happens after monkeys and apes are shot and are chopped up into transportable pieces.
“Although bush meat is an important part of local diets, people will probably not starve if they forgo eating primates,” continued Hicks.
“There are also ethical and conservation reasons not to do this, of course. The message needs to be spread, that eating primates is not only putting local people but indeed humanity at risk.”