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Ebola-Outbreak Kills 5000 Gorillas

Over the last decade human outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus in Africa have been repeatedly linked to gorilla and chimpanzee deaths in nearby forests. //Hotly debated has been whether these wild ape deaths were isolated incidents or part of a massive die-off. New research published in the journal Science puts this debate to rest, providing strong evidence that Ebola killed at least 5,000 gorillas at a single site. The study also provides new hope for controlling the devastating impact of Ebola on wild gorilla and chimpanzee populations.

Since reports of ape die-offs first circulated widely in 2003, sceptics have doubted how large these die-offs were and whether Ebola was even the cause. The new study, led by Magdalena Bermejo of the University of Barcelona, allays these doubts because it was conducted in a closely monitored gorilla population where genetic tests confirmed Ebola as the cause of death. Bermejo and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Uppsala University first showed that 93% (221 of 238) individually known gorillas at the Lossi Sanctuary in northwest Congo were killed by Ebola during outbreaks in 2002 and 2003. They then used transect surveys to show that 95% gorilla mortality rates extended over a much larger area of several thousand square kilometres. Chimpanzees were also heavily affected, with a mortality rate of 77%.

Lossi was just one in a series of large gorilla and chimpanzee die-offs caused by Ebola over the last twelve years. Accurate figures on exactly how many apes have died are not yet available. But given the large amount of prime habitat affected, these Ebola outbreaks may have killed as much as 25% of the world gorilla population. Particularly troubling has been the concentration of Ebola impact on large, remote protected areas that were designed to be the bulwarks of ape conservation efforts. Ebola has not totally made apes totally extinct from these areas but it has pushed
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