Molecular species identification of bushmeat recovered from the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania

Bushmeat harvesting and consumption represents a potential risk for the spillover of endemic zoonotic pathogens, yet remains a common practice in many parts of the world. Given that the harvesting and selling of bushmeat is illegal in Tanzania and other parts of Africa, the supply chain is informal and may include hunters, whole-sellers, retailers, and individual resellers who typically sell bushmeat in small pieces. These pieces are often further processed, obscuring species-identifying morphological characteristics, contributing to incomplete or mistaken knowledge of species of origin and potentially confounding assessments of pathogen spillover risk and bushmeat offtake. The current investigation sought to identify the species of origin and assess the concordance between seller-reported and laboratory-confirmed species of origin of bushmeat harvested from in and around the Serengeti
National Park in Tanzania. After obtaining necessary permits, the species of origin of a total of 151 bushmeat samples purchased from known intermediaries from 2016 to 2018 were characterized by PCR and sequence analysis of the cytochrome B (CytB) gene. Based on these sequence analyses, 30%, 95% Confidence Interval (CI: 24.4–38.6) of bushmeat samples were misidentified by sellers. Misreporting amongst the top five source species (wildebeest, buffalo, impala, zebra, and giraffe) ranged from 20% (CI: 11.4–33.2) for samples reported as wildebeest to 47% (CI: 22.2–72.7) for samples reported as zebra although there was no systematic bias in reporting. Our findings suggest that while misreporting errors are unlikely to confound wildlife offtake estimates for bushmeat consumption within the Serengeti ecosystem, the role of misreporting bias on the risk of spillover events of endemic zoonotic infections from bushmeat requires further investigation.

Last Updated
February 17, 2021
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