Ebola Virus Threatens Gorillas, Chimps
DAKAR, Senegal — Conservationists say the dreaded Ebola virus along with decades of hunting and logging are putting some ape species on the brink of extinction in Central Africa.
Ebola, which kills through massive internal bleeding, has long been known to infect primates in Africa. It was first identified in 1976 and has since killed about 1,000 people, some of whom are believed to have contracted the disease by consuming or handling infected meat from wild animals.
Most at risk are western lowland gorillas and the Central African chimpanzee, both of which live in the dense rain forests of Central Africa, Conservation International said in a statement late Tuesday.
Christophe Boesch of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, who worked with Conservation International on a study, said Wednesday that Ebola was reported in May for the first time in Republic of Congo’s Odzala National Park, which contains the world’s largest concentration of western lowland gorillas.
“The fact that it has reached this important park is extremely worrying,” Boesch by telephone from Leipzig, Germany. “Ebola has been around the region, it’s not something new. But it’s worsening.”
In May, the Washington-based Conservation International sponsored a conference of about 70 primatologists and other experts in Republic of Congo’s capital, Brazzaville, to come up with a plan to prevent gorillas and chimpanzees in the region from being wiped out.
“While the experts were unable to establish precise population figures for the gorillas and chimpanzees, they determined that recent Ebola outbreaks, bushmeat hunting and logging have almost wiped out some populations,” Conservation International said in a statement. “The continuing spread of the Ebola virus through the region is a particular threat, with devastating effects on ape populations.”
Conservation International spokesman Tom Cohen told The Associated Press in an e-mail: “This is the first time that Ebola has been identified as a widespread threat to gorilla and chimp populations in the region.”
The group appealed for money to fund a $30 million plan aimed at protecting apes in five African countries by increasing security to protect against illegal hunting, easing logging and slowing the spread of Ebola with “improved monitoring and response to Ebola outbreaks.”
The five countries include Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea.
Ebola, believed to be one of the world’s most deadly diseases, is transmitted through direct contact with body fluids of infected persons or primates. It has no known cure, and between 50 percent and 90 percent of the victims die. Among humans, the disease often burns out before spreading far.
The last confirmed Ebola outbreak occurred in northwestern Republic of Congo in May, killing eight people.
Boesch said Ebola had been “moving from northern Gabon into (Republic of) Congo progressively over the years, and continues to decimate large numbers of apes in Central Africa.”
Wildlife experts have warned for years that poaching and logging were threatening ape species in the region.
Conservation International president Russell A. Mittermeier said those threats combined with Ebola leave “us on the brink of losing some of our closest living relatives.”
On the Net:
Conservation International: http://www.conservation.org
Wild Chimpanzee Foundation: http://www.wildchimps.org
Wildlife Conservation Society: http://www.wcs.org