Infecting our Primate Neighbors

on Thursday, March 31, 2011


Gorillas share up to 98% of their DNA with Humans. While these genetic similarities have always created feelings of curiosity in us, it potentially poses a great threat to this fragile species. It has been assumed for years that because of our close genetic relationship with Gorillas, that many diseases could pass between our two species. Because of the fact that the Mountain Gorilla population has dwindled down to approximately 800 members, protection from humans has always been a crucial goal.


It has long since been assumed that by creating wildlife preserves for these great mammals, much of the danger from the human population would be taken care of. However, most of the preserves located in Rwanda, Uganda, and The Democratic Republic of Congo are found in the most heavily populated area of continental Africa. It goes almost without saying that the more people that can be found in one place, the more diseases can be found also. Gorilla tourism has also added to the problem of human contact. While in many ways this tourism has allowed for a greater understanding for the need for Gorilla protection, it has also exposed them on a near daily basis to human diseases. It has recently been determined that the Human Metapneumonovirus (HMPV) is the second highest cause of Mountain Gorilla death in the last few years.


HMPV is an RNA virus, which causes respiratory upset in both Humans and in Gorillas. The symptoms range from a simple cold all the way up to severe pneumonia. These symptoms have been documented in the Gorilla population for some time, but the direct correlation was not determined until the death of an adult female and an infant in 2009. Both of these animals were discovered to have clear signs of HMPV, and it was determined to be the cause of death. These findings have uncovered a new set of dangers facing this fragile population. While the solution to this serious problem has yet to be determined, researchers are following these Gorillas even more closely in the hopes of preventing the further spread of this disease.

2 comments:

Mason Posner said...

I wonder how close humans are allowed to get to the gorillas in these preserves, and if the virus transmission is from tourists or park employees.

Patrick Schnieders said...

Great post! It's too bad that there is yet another thing threatening an already dwindling endangered species.

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