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Here’s something to think about on World AIDS Day: a gift of livestock could help prevent the next HIV from ever arising.

Photo by Michael Padmanaba/CIFOR

Many viruses, like HIV, Ebola and SARS, begin in animals before jumping to the human population. HIV actually got a foothold in humans back in the 1920s in central Africa, but didn’t spread until road and air travel became easier. According to experts, viruses are more likely to make the leap and cause human disease if they come from exotic, rather than domestic, animals - the kind hunted and eaten by people in poverty all around the world.

Heifer International hosted a presentation this week by the world’s foremost experts on the risks of “bush meat” - the staff of Global Viral Forecasting. This California-based organization works around the globe, often in remote hunter-gatherer communities, to develop a system that could actually prevent pandemics before they start.

Heifer’s mission fits in with this job as perfectly as “peanut butter and chocolate,” says Dr. Nathan Wolfe, GVF’s founder. As he tries to convince hunters not to butcher and eat exotic animals, many of which are endangered, the people often reply, “What else can we eat?”

Photo by Jake Lyell

It’s a fair question. Heifer International understands that for people who have little land, animal protein can be the only available source of sustenance for children and families. That's why domestic animal agriculture, when it’s done right, can help protect wild animals and their environment for future generations.

Heifer is exploring ways to partner with GVF in places like Cameroon to help give communities options besides bush meat. It’s a chance to (to use an unfortunate metaphor) kill three birds with one stone: feeding the hungry, protecting rare species, and possibly preventing dangerous diseases.


Kelly MacNeil