Pandemic human viruses cause decline of endangered great apes

Curr Biol. 2008 Feb 26;18(4):260-4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.01.012. Epub 2008 Jan 31.


Commercial hunting and habitat loss are major drivers of the rapid decline of great apes [1]. Ecotourism and research have been widely promoted as a means of providing alternative value for apes and their habitats [2]. However, close contact between humans and habituated apes during ape tourism and research has raised concerns that disease transmission risks might outweigh benefits [3-7]. To date only bacterial and parasitic infections of typically low virulence have been shown to move from humans to wild apes [8, 9]. Here, we present the first direct evidence of virus transmission from humans to wild apes. Tissue samples from habituated chimpanzees that died during three respiratory-disease outbreaks at our research site, Côte d'Ivoire, contained two common human paramyxoviruses. Viral strains sampled from chimpanzees were closely related to strains circulating in contemporaneous, worldwide human epidemics. Twenty-four years of mortality data from observed chimpanzees reveal that such respiratory outbreaks could have a long history. In contrast, survey data show that research presence has had a strong positive effect in suppressing poaching around the research site. These observations illustrate the challenge of maximizing the benefit of research and tourism to great apes while minimizing the negative side effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ape Diseases / mortality
  • Ape Diseases / transmission*
  • Ape Diseases / virology
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Cote d'Ivoire / epidemiology
  • Disease Outbreaks / veterinary*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Metapneumovirus / isolation & purification*
  • Pan troglodytes / virology*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / etiology
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / mortality
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / veterinary*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Viruses / isolation & purification*