WCS projects span the natural diversity that is Africa, from the rich tropical forests of the Central Congo Basin to the savannahs of Tanzania to the stunning land and seascapes of Madagascar. WCS protects some of the most important landscapes remaining in Africa and conducts groundbreaking research on some of the continent’s most iconic species, including lions, forest elephants, and Grauer’s gorillas.
WCS has been working in the Republic of Congo for nearly 20 years, spearheading conservation action to protect great apes and other wildlife and their habitat. In 1999 WCS created the Great Ape Health Program in order to improve our understanding of health threats to these endangered species. The program includes great ape and other wildlife disease investigations, great ape health visual monitoring, a hunter-based wildlife mortality surveillance program, applied research into the ecology of Ebola virus and its effect on ape populations, and a community outreach/education program that informs our conservation research while also serving as an “early-warning system” to protect human health. This program is enhancing understanding of the ecology of Ebola virus, including its reservoirs; routes of transmission between species; its effects on great ape populations; and examines possible approaches to mitigation of this threat to great apes, other wildlife, and people.
Watch: One Health in Action in the Republic of Congo
In the Republic of the Congo, a 2005 Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak had a human mortality rate of more than 80%, and an estimated 5,000 great apes also died. In partnership with the government, WCS set up an early warning system for EVD, working with hunters, forest communities, and rangers to monitor wildlife health through a carcass monitoring and sampling network, whilst promoting best practices in disease risk reduction for these communities that rely on bushmeat as a source of protein. The community-based wildlife mortality monitoring network covers over 30,000 km2 of remote forest in northern Congo, an area home to 60% of the world’s gorillas. WCS is also assisting in research for groundbreaking field diagnostic tools and recently helped develop a portable diagnostic tool for real-time diagnostic testing for Ebola in the field (Biomeme Ebolavirus assay). The tool is being piloted in the Republic of the Congo, with potential roll-out across the region and beyond, facilitating swift implementation of safety measures. Future adaptation of the Biomeme and similar platforms for field-identification of other zoonotic pathogens of concern is under exploration.
Hear more from our field vet in the RoC, Dr Alain Ondzie: One Way to Prevent Epidemics: Monitoring Wildlife Mortality
WCS Health Programs' staff are also working on the conservation of other species such as the African grey parrot, for whom illegal capture for the pet trade has become a lucrative business. Parrot populations are being decimated – some regions have lost over 95% of their parrots. Up to 35% of trapped birds die at poaching sites and another 25% die in transit, stuffed in makeshift cages, from stress, overcrowding, dehydration, inanition, trauma, and disease. WCS Health Programs interventions have resulted in improved triage, management, housing, and health care of confiscated parrots, which in turn is resulting in more birds returning to the wild.
Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher, WCS