Great Apes

Great apes are in decline worldwide. The WCS landscapes contain 18 of the 23 species of apes. Since 2014, whilst a new species of orangutan has been described, three ape species have gone from Endangered to Critically Endangered. Chimpanzees, gorillas, and humans are close evolutionary relatives and therefore vulnerable to more than 140 of the same diseases. 

As the numbers of researchers, eco-tourists, local people, and soldiers increase in and around the lowland forests of central Africa, the likelihood of viruses, parasites, and other pathogens passing between them and great apes rises. Research suggests that tens of thousands of great apes have already perished from Ebola hemorrhagic fever virus, which is also deadly to humans. The WCS Health Programs are at the forefront of investigations into the diagnosis, management and prevention of such diseases.

The Congo Basin is vital habitat for more than 100,000 western lowland gorillas and more than 80 percent of Earth’s wild chimpanzees. Since 1999, WCS has been the only organization systematically collecting comprehensive health data on these populations. In addition, our wildlife veterinarians are on the front lines developing preventative measures and educating park rangers, communities and field researchers to ensure that wild apes survive in Africa’s forests for generations to come. 

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 already planned.

Hear more from our field vet in the RoC, Dr Alain Ondzie: One Way to Prevent Epidemics: Monitoring Wildlife Mortality

WATCH:  Novel Method Developed to Detect Ebola Virus in Wildlife


Gorilla banner photo credit: Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

Gorilla sampling inset photo credit: Alain Ondzie, WCS Congo


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