Participation of women and children in hunting activities in Sierra Leone and implications for control of zoonotic infections

PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
(Accessed 29 July 2017)

Research Article
Participation of women and children in hunting activities in Sierra Leone and implications for control of zoonotic infections
Jesse Bonwitt, Martin Kandeh, Michael Dawson, Rashid Ansumana, Foday Sahr, Ann H. Kelly, Hannah Brown
| published 27 Jul 2017 PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases
The emergence of infectious diseases of zoonotic origin highlights the need to understand social practices at the animal-human interface. This study provides a qualitative account of interactions between humans and wild animals in predominantly Mende villages of southern Sierra Leone. We conducted fieldwork over 4 months including participant and direct observations, semi-structured interviews (n=47), spontaneously occurring focus group discussions (n=12), school essays and informal interviews to describe behaviours that may serve as pathways for zoonotic infection. In this region, hunting is the primary form of contact with wild animals. We describe how these interactions are shaped by socio-cultural contexts, including opportunities to access economic resources and by social obligations and constraints. Our research suggests that the potential for exposure to zoonotic pathogens is more widely distributed across different age, gender and social groups than previously appreciated. We highlight the role of children in hunting, an age group that has previously not been discussed in the context of hunting. The breadth of the “at risk” population forces reconsideration of how we conceptualize, trace and monitor pathogen exposure.
Author summary
Studying how and why humans interact with animals is important to understand the transmission of zoonotic diseases (infectious diseases transmitted from animals to humans) and how to prevent and control them. We conducted a qualitative study to understand how and why people come into contact with wild animals in the Southern province of Sierra Leone, a region with numerous wildlife species known to carry zoonotic diseases. Previous studies on hunting in sub-Saharan Africa principally describe adult men as hunters and adult women as retailers of meat from wild animals. Based on our results, we seek to broaden the category of people deemed “at risk” of zoonotic diseases through hunting by including women and children. In particular, because of their limited physical abilities and social position, children hunt under different circumstances than those of adults. Our results have implications for zoonotic disease research and prevention, for example by ensuring children are integrated in health interventions and that their unique reasons to hunt are taken into account during such processes.