Bats for sale in Bangui’s central market, three for $4. Technically they are illegal but so are hand grenades and apparently there is a glut of them trading illicitly in the city. (An EU peacekeeper told me that locals told him a Chinese grenade could be had for less than a dollar.)
The bats present a whole other—and in some ways scarier—threat. With West African nations desperately trying to halt the worst-ever recorded Ebola epidemic, health officials warn that consuming bush meat, especially bats, which are known vectors for the virus, could be the match that sparks the next wave of infections. (In addition to bats, monkeys are another potential source of Ebola and are featured on the menus of several local restaurants. “It’s our traditional food,” the bat vendor told me. “You should try it.”)
It must be noted that CAR has never had a recorded outbreak of Ebola. But if one were to happen now, with the country’s health service essentially shuttered and a quarter of the population displaced by fighting, it could turn the current tragic situation into a nightmare beyond compare.
Image and text by Peter Gwin, via Instagram. Central African Republic, 2014.
Archive: The scribes of Timbuktu in Gwin’s 2013 Pulitzer Center-supported report for the National Geographic.