Great apes and humans share susceptibility to potentially dangerous pathogens because they are phylogenetically so closely related. As human activities like great ape tourism and research increase along with more widespread development of lands for human use, people are coming into increasingly close contact with great apes. Such close contact increases the risk that human pathogens will be introduced to wild great apes, which is why it’s crucial that we develop best practices for health monitoring and disease control.

Gorilla Doctors played a lead role in writing the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Best Practice Guidelines for Health Monitoring and Disease Control in Great Ape Populations, which was published last week by the IUCN and can be read in full at

Co-authored by Gorilla Doctors’ Kirsten Gilardi, the document aims to provide information first and foremost for protected area authorities who are responsible for managing and conserving great ape populations around the world. It recommends best practices for wild great ape health monitoring, disease control, and clinical interventions. Kirsten co-authored the guidelines with great ape health experts Thomas Gillespie, Fabian Leendertz, Elizabeth Macfie, Dominic Travis, Chris Whittier, and Elizabeth Williamson. The authors received extensive input from contributors from the global great ape research and conservation community, including Gorilla Doctors’ Co-Director Mike Cranfield and staff veterinarians John Bosco Nizeyi and Benard Ssebide

The guidelines were based on several core principles (Best Practice Guidelines, p. 3):

  •  – Applying best practice to avoid transmission of human pathogens to great apes is an ethical obligation at all tourism and research sites.
  •  – It is generally easier and more economical to prevent the transmission of a human pathogen to a great ape (individual or population) than to attempt to treat, control or eradicate a disease problem once introduced. Therefore, it is best practice for all Protected Area Authorities and great ape conservation and research projects to give the highest priority to the implementation of disease prevention and control programmes.
  •  – It is not possible to achieve zero risk; however, the cumulative effect of making concerted efforts to comply with recommendations for disease prevention will substantially reduce the risk that human pathogens pose to great apes.
  •  – Applying the precautionary principle to recommended best practices for great ape health is warranted: in other words, in the absence of scientific evidence that a disease agent or human action or policy is or is not a risk or harmful to great apes, it is safest to assume that such agents or actions do pose a health risk to great apes until scientifically proven otherwise.
  •  – Assessing and improving the health of the people who work in great ape habitat, especially those who are frequently in close proximity to wild great apes, is imperative.

Looking ahead, Gorilla Doctors has organized a roundtable to discuss the newly published guidelines at the biennial International Primatological Society and American Society of Primatologists joint meeting in Chicago, Illinois this summer.