Disease Trends in Central Africa: The Implications on Great Ape Health and Wildlife Conservation
Diseases can significantly affect wild primate conservation efforts and humans sharing the same habitat. Working with alliances between wildlife conservation non-governmental and national government organizations is key when developing a program aimed at protecting free-ranging lowland gorilla populations from the risk of emerging or introduced diseases. Such a multidisciplinary program was initiated in 1999 by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Field Veterinary Program, linking the Centre International de Recherche Medical Franceville (CIRMF), artement des Eaux et Forêts and local medical facilities with ECOFAC, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), EDG, and SOSRhino. Monitoring teams put in place in the region are conducting health assessments of great apes by evaluating general morbidity and mortality indicators including the presence of multiple parasitic, bacterial and viral pathogens. Furthermore, when combining standardized visual observations and biologic sample collection with GIS and digital images, spatial, temporal and demographic trends in medical conditions, such as AWS or hindlimb paralysis, can be evaluated. In addition to these assessments, quarterly human health evaluations, conducted by the local healthcare professionals, were initiated to assess risk factors. These efforts received increased attention in light of the recent Ebola outbreak in eastern Gabon and western Congo. Human health organization’s efforts, such as the World Health Organization, the Medicines Sans Frontier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ant Militaire and the National inst es de Sant, therefore all became linked. Recognition of the risks of zoonotic diseases was brought further into focus when reports of increased wildlife mortalities and human disease were occurring side by side during this current epidemic. Having local qualified teams in place for the gorilla health program permitted the rapid response and investigation of the atypical wildlife mortalities reported. The wildlife mortalities, which included more than 33 gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) and a dozen chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), concentrated around a couple of villages in Gabon near the Congolese border, incorporated zones with some of the world’s highest densities of western lowland gorillas. Epidemics, as in this case of Ebola, have not only devastating human health impacts but also the potential for severe long-term socioeconomic consequences on the human population and local wildlife conservation efforts. Although pathogens will always play a role in wildlife ecology, the implications, under circumstances where introduced or emerging zoonotic diseases have such a devastating impact, are enormous and cannot be ignored. Continued research on the health implications of zoonotic diseases in and around the region is therefore essential and in motion. To guide preemptive/preventive measures to decrease zoonotic disease transmission risks, the following steps are underway:
1. Implementation of ongoing health awareness programs in local human populations,
2. Standardization of the health evaluation of free-ranging primates,
3. Collection and analysis of visual health data and biologic samples, and
4. Capacity building of local teams for ongoing monitoring of changes.
This epidemic is just one example of the significant impact diseases can have on both the human population and the regional fauna. With the hopes of diminishing the negative impacts, when linked with monitoring and research, increased awareness and other preventive health measures will improve our understanding of the relationships between disease and population dynamics and the implication on human and great ape health and wildlife conservation.
We would like to and must thank all of the following, for without them none of this would be possible: the Gabonese and the Congolese “Department des Eaux et Forets”, Mrs. Mafumbi and Marcelin, respectively, for having the foresight to seek to incorporate preventive health measures into their wildlife management programs; all the researches Sylvain, Celine, Florence, Magda, German, Raphael, Emma, Chloe, Cricket, Dave, Jonathan, Stephanie, Ludovick, Bo, Kate, Gustave; the local teams with Victor, Roger, Mathieu, Damas, Christian; the veterinary team Franck and Billandress; the human medical teams with Drs. Libama, Leon, Ongolloro, Atsabgandoko, Mmm. Joni and Mrs. Imbonda and Popa; and the essential park management and logistic support from Mrs. Joni, Mbana, Brian, Lee, Ladis, Allard, Bruno, Peter and Mme. Lisa.