Ebola Vaccination Initiative for Gorillas

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Africa/Madagascar > Africa General


An Ebola vaccine could save thousands of gorillas. It is estimated that one year of Ebola vaccination could save as many apes as decades of anti-poaching activities. Gorilla vaccination will benefit humans as well, by blocking a source of infection and proving the effectiveness of a potential vaccine under difficult field circumstances.

There is now an unprecedented opportunity to save the gorillas by leveraging recent advances in developing a human Ebola vaccine. There are at least 6 different candidate vaccines in development, and more research on the disease than at any time since Ebola was discovered in 1976. Recognition that the former Soviet Union had weaponized Ebola virus, and that Aum Shinrikyo, the cult responsible for sarin attacks in the Tokyo subway, tried to steal the virus from an outbreak in Zaire in 1993, has led to a major expansion of United States government resources to understand the virus and ensure its defeat. In addition, most Ebola work used to require maximum laboratory containment, which is expensive and difficult. Advances in biotechnology have allowed some work in less arduous laboratory conditions, spurring progress.

Adapting the human vaccine developments to help the gorillas requires fieldwork and laboratory work. The most effective vaccine candidate for gorillas has yet to be determined. Tests must be conducted to find out whether gorillas will eat a vaccine disguised as food, as human children once took their polio vaccines, or whether darting would be more effective. Laboratory assays must be refined to make sure that gorillas are protected. At no point will gorillas or chimpanzees be sacrificed for this effort.


The Ebola virus is sweeping through Central Africa, critically endangering the survival of African Great Apes. Outbreaks of this devastating disease have a dramtic impact especially on gorillas with about an estimated 25% of the world’s gorillas killed so far. Human outbreaks followed close behind, often caused by eating infected apes. In all, thousands of people and gorillas have died. Most recently, in December 2007, an outbreak in Uganda claimed the lives of at least 2 dozen people. However the most worrisome and alarming is that this disease now seems to spread over a front like a wave and not only have distinct outbreaks as might have been the case in the past.

National parks and other protected areas that harbour gorilla populations have seen decades of conservation work disappear overnight. Development projects based on gorilla viewing sustaining local economies have been lost, along with the lives of a third of all habituated gorillas. Infectious diseases know no borders. Uganda, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Congo have all been critically affected, with more countries, and more apes and human populations certain to follow.

If this trend continues, the next decade could bring the loss of half the remaining global population of gorillas. The virus is moving at about 50km/year, and most remaining large ape populations lie within about 200 km of the current die-off zone. Western lowland gorillas are now classified as critically endangered. Once healthy gorilla populations are no longer resilient to other threats that endanger them: war, poaching, and continuing loss of habitat.


Adapt the human Ebola vaccine to help save the gorillas.

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