Economic & Political Weekly — Bat Hunts and Disease Outbreaks

Traditional Bat Hunting in Nagaland

Vol – L No. 18, May 02, 2015 | Pilot Dovih

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There are various factors why infectious agents from wildlife jump over to humans causing illness and death. One of the significant causes are factors that bring wildlife and humans in close contact with each other. One such important human-wildlife interface is bush meat hunting; this combined with various other factors such as a rapidly growing human population, unsustainable natural resource consumption, biodiversity loss and habitat fragmentation have increasingly pushed wildlife and humans in close contact with each other, resulting in increased incidence of disease spillover and outbreaks during recent years.

Such factors have increasingly exposed us and our domesticated animals to viruses that earlier lacked such numerous opportunities for viral spillover. As we rapidly alter natural landscapes, converting them into farmland or other development projects, we alter habitats, changing the interaction between wildlife and humans. Bushmeat hunting provides one of the most intimate contacts between humans and wildlife, providing ample opportunities for the virus to jump over to humans. Very high bushmeat hunting has been documented in West Africa (David S 1998), which might have been the reason for high occurrence of zoonotic diseases there (Wolfe et al 2005). Though there have been very few such studies in India, one study shows high quantity of bushmeat consumption in Northeast India (Hilaluddin 2005).

Bushmeat hunters are exposed to lethal viruses, as they cut open the animal and are directly exposed to body fluids such as blood, saliva, urine and faeces. One of best known examples for disease spillover from wildlife to humans is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is thought to have jumped to humans from non-human primates through bushmeat in Africa. The SARS outbreak of 2002 is known to have originated from a wet market in China, where live wild animals are regularly slaughtered and kept in close contact with each other and humans. Other infections which are thought to have originated from wildlife include Ebola virus, Nipah virus, West Nile virus, SARS-CoV; a large number of these viruses have also been detected in bats.

The Longpfurii Yimchungii, a Naga sub-tribe, living in Mimi village in Nagaland, participate in a unique, annual bat harvesting festival in mid-October. The village is situated along the Indo-Myanmar border and comprises around 200 households, mainly occupied by 3 clans namely Bomrr, Whourr and Mer.
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