The Current Ebola Outbreak and Gorilla Conservation
Information & FAQs
Published June 17, 2019
The ongoing 2018/19 Ebolavirus disease (EVD) outbreak started in August 2018 in Beni Territory, North Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in East Central Africa. It is now the second largest EVD outbreak on record, second only to the 2013-2016 West Africa Outbreak.
As of June 15, 2019, there have been 2,120 confirmed and suspect human cases, and 1,420 confirmed and probable human fatalities (588 Ebolavirus-infected patients have recovered). Despite mass vaccination of people at high risk for infection and health care workers (approximately 120,000+ vaccines administered), the geographic area of the outbreak is widening with confirmed cases of EVD now in the Kasese district of Uganda where the first death in Uganda occurred on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (Up to date information on the outbreak can be found here: https://www.who.int/ebola/situation-reports/drc-2018/en/).
TO DATE, in the context of the current Ebolavirus outbreak in DRC, to the best of our knowledge, there have been no reports of suspicious or confirmed cases of EVD in human-habituated eastern gorillas or other great apes. Gorilla Doctors, in collaboration with government wildlife authorities, international partners and frontline healthcare workers are closely monitoring the situation and working with all partners in planning for protection of and possible mitigation of EVD in wild eastern gorillas.
July 14, 2019
As part of World Chimpanzee Day on July 14th, Gorilla Doctors’ team was invited by the Jane Goodall Roots & Shoots program along with the WHO (World Health Organization) to teach children about disease transmission between humans and great apes. Dr. Martin, Gorilla Doctors Field Veterinarian, presented about zoonotic diseases and the risk of transmission due to bushmeat consumption with Ebola disease as the main focus.
July 15, 2019
Gorilla Doctors team in DRC is closely monitoring the recent confirmed case of Ebolavirus (EV) in Goma. The Ebolavirus positive individual has been sent to Butembo by the government’s EV response team and contacts are being tracked by them as well. In response to this new case, Dr. Eddy Kambale, Gorilla Doctors Head Veterinarian organized and led a discussion, in collaboration with Virunga National Park Warden, Tourism Manager and Andre Bauma of the Senkwekwe mountain gorilla orphanage, to reinforce tourism rules and refresh on Ebola disease and best practice procedures regarding prevention of Ebolavirus transmission. Participants included park rangers, park ranger wives and administration staff. Dr. Eddy will be traveling to additional ranger outposts to repeat the discussion over the next several days.
The FAQs here pertain only to the current Ebolavirus outbreak in DRC and its threat to and potential impact on eastern gorillas (mountain and Grauer’s) across the three range countries (DRC, Uganda and Rwanda). For general FAQs about Ebolavirus, please visit: https://www.who.int/csr/disease/ebola/faq-ebola/en/
1) Can gorillas get Ebolavirus from humans?
Yes. Great apes, including gorillas, are highly susceptible to Ebolavirus (EV), and human EV outbreaks have been associated with significant mortality in wild great ape populations in West Africa.
2) How is Ebolavirus transmitted?
It is a highly contagious virus transmitted through direct contact of mucosal surfaces (oral, nasal, genital) or with bodily fluids and excretions (for example: blood, saliva, urine, feces, semen) from infected animals or people, including contaminated surfaces. Animals or people suffering from EVD ‘shed’ large quantities of the virus when they are ill, dying or deceased. People who are caring for EVD patients or preparing bodies for burial (especially family members, caregivers, and healthcare workers) are at great risk for infection.
3) Are gorillas infected the same way as humans?
Yes. Gorillas are infected just as humans are: through direct contact with an infected animal, and conceivably through direct contact with bodily fluids or excretions of infected people.
4) Are some gorillas more at risk than others?
Approximately 60% of the 1,063 mountain gorillas in the world are habituated to the presence of people who facilitate conservation, tourism, and research. These gorillas are visited daily (park personnel, researchers, veterinarians), they are not afraid of people and are less likely to runaway than non-habituated gorillas. This puts them uniquely at risk should EV-infected people or animals come into close proximity of the gorillas and/or experience direct contact. At the same time, habituation allows Gorilla Doctors’ veterinarians to get close enough to be able to monitor gorillas for signs of illness.
5) Now that Ebolavirus is in Uganda, are the gorillas in Uganda at risk?
The confirmed human cases of EVD are located in the Kasese District of western Uganda along the border with DRC. This is approximately 60km (37 miles) from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, still considered a significant distance with regard to increased risk but our team in Uganda is monitoring the situation very closely.
6) Can you give the Ebolavirus vaccine to gorillas?
The human Ebolavirus vaccine is believed to be 97% effective in protecting individuals from EVD. The World Health Organization is vaccinating people. Gorilla Doctors is working with our government and NGO partners on plans and protocols for vaccination of wild gorillas should it be necessary to prevent gorilla deaths.
7) How can I help?
The most effective action is to stay informed and support the organizations working on the ground to mitigate the outbreak in people and to conserve great apes, including gorillas. Gorilla Doctors will update this page as new information becomes available. Please follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will do our best to add commonly asked questions to this page that are directly relevant to gorilla health and veterinary care with regard to the current Ebolavirus outbreak.
November 15, 2019 – What it takes to protect gorillas from Ebola, National Geographic
October 30, 2019 – ‘Ebola is Now a Disease We Can Treat.’ How a Cure Emerged from a War Zone, The Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
October 25, 2019 – Scientists Were Hunting for the Next Ebola. Now the U.S. Has Cut Off Their Funding, The New York Times
July 17, 2019 – Ebola Outbreak in Congo is Declared a Global Emergency, The New York Times