Scientists fear new Ebola outbreak may explain sudden gorilla disappearance

August 27, 2004 (Torino, Italy) Scientists fear that emerging evidence may suggest a new outbreak of the Ebola virus, which, in addition to threatening human lives, would threaten tens of thousands of great apes in this case gorillas and chimpanzees in the Republic of Congo. The announcement was made by the International Primatological Society (IPS) and Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP) at the IPS's 20th Congress, being held this week in Turin, Italy.

Congo's Odzala National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, contains an estimated 30,000 western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), the largest such population of the endangered species in the world. Until late last year, hundreds could regularly be spotted in Lokoue Bai, a natural clearing in the park where separate groups of the gorillas predictably congregated. But whereas 45 groups of gorillas (each with an average of eight individuals) were once normally observed there, the number since May has plummeted to only nine groups.

"We have not confirmed this as an outbreak of Ebola yet, but there are clear indications that we need to take that possibility seriously," said Dr. Dieudonn Ankara, GRASP Focal Point for Congo-Brazzaville, who confirmed these recent developments. "This situation demands serious attention, since another Ebola outbreak would have devastating effects not only for wildlife, but for my neighbors who call the area home."

Fewer than 100,000 western lowland gorillas remain on Earth. A study published in the journal Nature last year suggested that when an ebola outbreak affects a given area, more than 80 percent of all great apes living in that area die of the disease.

Ebola outbreaks have already occurred in this general area. In the past two years, two reported cases were confirmed in Lossi Forest, approximately 50 kilometers south of Odzala. In both cases, more than 80 percent of all lowland gorillas and roughly 70 percent of all chimpanzees living there

Contact: Cristina Giacomo
Conservation International

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