Medical Survey of the Local Human Population to Determine Possible Health Risks to the Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei) of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2002
Jonathan M. Sleeman1, BA, VetMB, MRCVS; William Guerrera2, BS, DVM; Ssebide B. Jasper3; Lonny B. Pace4, DVM; Travers Y. Ichinose5, MA; John S. Reif5, DVM, MSc (Med)
1Wildlife Center of Virginia, Waynesboro, VA, USA; 2College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA; 3Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda; 4Marathon Veterinary Clinic, Marathon, FL, USA; 5Department of Environmental Health, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA


Recently, there has been increasing contact between mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei) and the human population surrounding Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park (BIFNP) in Uganda. Due to the close taxonomic relationship between humans and gorillas the potential for disease transmission between the species exists. Preventing the introduction or spread of transmissible diseases to the gorillas is essential for protecting this endangered species. We interviewed 301 villagers living in close proximity to BIFNP with a medical questionnaire in July, 2000. We collected information on demographics, vaccination and health history, and human/gorilla interaction. Our objectives were to estimate the prevalence of several diseases in the human population, and to evaluate the risk for anthropozoonotic transmission (from humans to gorillas). We found a high prevalence of disease symptoms such as coughing (72.1%) and fever (56.1%) compatible with acute infectious diseases; over half of the respondents (59.1%) had a specific disease diagnosis within the 6 mo preceding the study. Using a chi square test we compared villagers who had visual contact with gorillas in the 6 mo preceding the study (53.5%) to villagers who had no visual contact (46.5%). Men were 2.3 times more likely to have visual contact with gorillas than women. In addition, individuals aged 41–59, those living in Buhoma or Bujengwe, or with the occupation of peasant or trader were more likely to have had visual contact with gorillas compared with other demographic groups. In general, the frequency of disease history and symptoms was similar for people with and without contact. The high prevalence of acute infectious diseases in the population surrounding BIFNP and the high rate of contact with gorillas creates the potential for anthropozoonotic disease transmission. Interventions and educational efforts should be directed at increasing the understanding of inter-species disease transmission, and promoting behaviors designed to minimize risk such as burial of wastes. Improvements in public health infrastructure would benefit the villagers as well as the mountain gorillas.


This study was funded by the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University and the Columbus Zoo, and approved by the Human Research Committee of Colorado State University. We thank the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology for permission to work in BIFNP. We also thank the national park staff and local chairpersons for their assistance in the field. Assistance with the questionnaire design was provided by Dr. Mo Salman and translated by Dr. Innocent Rwego.


Speaker Information
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Jonathan M. Sleeman, BA, VetMB, MRCVS
Wildlife Center of Virginia
Waynesboro, VA, USA

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