Ebola Killing Thousands of Gorillas, Study Says

Kate Ravilious
for National Geographic News
December 7, 2006

The Ebola virus is marching steadily across western and central Africa, wiping out more than 90 percent of the gorillas in its path and threatening the species with extinction, a new study says.

About 5,000 gorillas were killed by the virus in one study area alone, according to results to be published in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.

Ebola causes a hemorrhagic fever, resulting in massive internal and external bleeding that kills within two weeks of symptoms appearing. There is no known cure, and in humans the mortality rate is around 80 percent.

The virus is named after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, near where the first known outbreak occurred in 1976.

Ebola is moving at a rate of around 31 miles (50 kilometers) per year in western and central Africa, experts say. Most of the area's remaining gorillas live within about 124 miles (200 kilometers) of the current outbreak.

"[Ebola] has already swept through two of the largest gorilla reserves and three or four of the smaller ones," said study team member Peter Walsh of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

"The outlook is pretty bleak."

Not Just Humans

Scientists have long known that apes were susceptible to Ebola. But until now they had no easy way to judge how serious the problem was.

But the new research, led by Magdalena Bermejo from the University of Barcelona in Spain, clearly lays out the devastating effects of Ebola on gorillas.

Bermejo's team has been monitoring gorilla populations in the Lossi Sanctuary in the northwest of the Republic of the Congo since 1995.

In October 2002 they began to find gorilla carcasses inside the sanctuary. Tests revealed that the gorillas had died from the Ebola virus.

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