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Ebola Menaces Great Ape Populations Of Central Africa

The scientific review Nature in 2004 said Ebola was rivalling poaching as the biggest threat to the ape populations in the region, which is home to about 80 percent of the world's gorillas and most of the common chimpanzees.

Brazzaville (AFP) Sep 07, 2005
The deadly Ebola virus, which has killed hundreds of great apes in recent years, remains one of the gravest threats to the endangered species in central Africa, according to researchers.

Hundreds, possibly thousands of great apes are estimated to have been killed by Ebola since an outbreak of the disease in 2001 in the countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon and Gabon.

The region counted from 80,000 to 120,000 gorillas before 2003, according to Congolose government statistics, but the population is shrinking fast due to diseases like Ebola and man-made causes such as poaching and deforestation.

"Until a vaccine is found, the great ape and human populations of our forest areas will always be under threat," said Charlotte Gokaba, director of disease and epidemic prevention at the Congolese ministry of health.

The disease is one of the most virulent, often causing massive haemorrhaging and killing 60 to 90 percent of victims.

The virus is spread through contact with body fluids including saliva.

An outbreak of the disease in 2003 killed nearly two-thirds of the 800-strong gorilla population in the Lossi sanctuary in north-western Congo.

The scientific review Nature in 2004 said Ebola was rivalling poaching as the biggest threat to the ape populations in the region, which is home to about 80 percent of the world's gorillas and most of the common chimpanzees.

A conference organized by the Congolese government in 2003 tried to mobilize the international community to protect the great apes by drawing up a regional plan to fight Ebola, but the effort failed for lack of resources and cooperation in the region, the researcher Gokaba said.

"Prevention in the affected areas and sub-regional cooperation are the only ways to prevent (another) Ebola epidemic," Gokaba said.

"But this kind of cooperation is still weak in central Africa," she said.

In a fresh effort, representatives from 23 so-called "great ape range states" and wildlife experts are gathering in the DRC from September 5 to 9 to consider a raft of proposals for ensuring the survival of the primates.

Besides disease, pressure from war, deforestation and the bushmeat trade, have also pushed the "great apes" -- highland and lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos (pygmy chimps) in Africa and orangutans in southeast Asia -- to the verge of annihilation, with experts predicting their complete demise by 2055 without speedy action.

The Kinshasa meeting is the first at governmental level of the UN-backed Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP), an ambitious scheme launched in Paris in 2003 to sustain and begin to boost their dwindling populations by 2010.

With only about 100 key great ape populations left in the wild, surveys of 24 allegedly protected preserves in equatorial Africa and Southeast Asia have found populations declining in 96 percent of the areas, according to GRASP.

In Africa, 70 percent of great ape habitats have been negatively affected by some sort of human encroachment, according to the surveys.

Extrapolating from annual estimates in the loss of habitat, GRASP predicts that within 25 years less than ten percent of great ape habitat in Africa will remain undisturbed.

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