Pandemic Human viruses causing a massive decline in Great Ape populations

A new Current Biology paper has documented what I’ve been following attentively sine 2006, the effect of exposure of human pathogens to great apes in the wild. The paper, “Pandemic Human Viruses Cause Decline of Endangered Great Apes,” is out on early advance release.

In order to thoroughly study the epidemiology of two communities of chimpanzees at the Taı National Park, a multidisciplinary approach involving behavioral ecology, veterinary medicine, virology and population biology was taken to track human disease. Tissue samples taken from chimpanzees that had died in a series of outbreaks dating back to 1999 tested positive for two human respiratory viruses that are major sources of human infant mortality in the developing world, namely human respiratory syncytial virus and human metapneumovirus. Viral strains sampled from the chimpanzees were closely related to pandemic strains concurrently circulating in human populations as far away as China and Argentina, suggesting recent introduction from humans into the chimpanzees.

The multidisciplinary research revealed an important distinction in issues revolving around ape conservation,

“The research project has however also had strongly positive effects. Longitudinal surveys showed that the presence of researchers had suppressed poaching activities in the surrounding area. Consequently, chimpanzee densities at both the research study site and a nearby chimpanzee tourism site were much higher than would be expected given their accessibility to poachers.”

In the past, I’ve covered on how the pathogens behind the diseases, Yaws, Ebola, and Anthrax have decimated ape populations. These three pathogens are affiliated with human society, specifically population density and sanitary as well as animal domestication issues. This new study specifically focused on the impact of human viruses to which wild great apes have little to none acquired immunity.

Here’s three posts where I covered the other diseases:

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