Gorillas & chimps decimated by Ebola virus

by Karen L. Willoughby |

((FILE) REUTERS/Edith Honan)A mountain gorilla is photographed in Virguna National Park located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) April 4, 2014. Stretching 185 miles (300 km) north to south and encompassing 2 million acres (81,000 hectares) of lush forest and savannah, Virunga National Park, a World Heritage site in the restive eastern region of the DRC, is Africa's oldest national park, established in 1925 when Congo was still a Belgian colony. It is also the only park in the world with three kinds of great ape - mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and lowland gorillas - and is home to many of the world's mountain gorillas, which are thought to number fewer than 800.

MONROVIA, Liberia (Christian Examiner) -- The Ebola virus that has flared into multiple epidemics among humans since the first documented outbreak in 1976, also has had devastating effects on other primates, killing about a third of all gorillas and chimpanzees, according to a report in The Conversation, a digital outlet for academic and research news.

These animals share about 98 percent of human DNA and show the same pathology to the disease, but it is more deadly for them. About 95 percent of gorillas and 77 percent of chimps that contract Ebola die from it. In humans, the death rate is about 50 percent. Consequently, when an outbreak occurs among people there likely will be a coincident epidemic going on among nearby ape populations.

Only about 100,000 gorillas are left in the wild, reported Meera Inglis, a doctoral candidate in conservation policy at the University of Sheffield in Great Britain. The great apes also are decimated by illegal trading in wildlife, deforestation, wars and infectious diseases in addition to Ebola, she said, but Ebola is the most looming peril.

"At this moment in time Ebola is the single greatest threat to the survival of gorillas and chimpanzees," Inglis said. "If we do not act fast, these may provide to be the last decades in which apes can continue to live in their natural habitat."

She also claims there is a lack of political will to do something to stop the decimation.

Ape researcher Peter Walsh has worked to develop an effective vaccine to protect gorilla populations, according to an article published last year in Conservation Magazine. He conducted successful trials in 2014, but publishing his work is as far as he could go.

As for the most recent human outbreak, which has been traced back to a 2-year-old-boy playing in a hollow tree trunk inhabited by fruit bats, new cases dropped from as many as 509 a week last September, in Liberia, to only eight last week.

Ironically, a vaccine is being shipped this week, likely to late to make any difference.

To date, 21,724 people have been infected in the current outbreak; 8,641 have died, according to World Health Organization statistics.