Daily Archives: January 27, 2008

Common human viruses threaten endangered great apes

Press Release..

Contact: Cathleen Genova
cgenova@cell.com
617-397-2802
Cell Press

Common human viruses are responsible for outbreaks of respiratory disease that have led to the decline of endangered chimpanzees in the wild, according to a study reported online on January 24th in Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press. The findings—which are the first to provide direct evidence of virus transmission from humans to wild great apes—illustrate the challenge of maximizing the benefit of research and tourism to great apes while minimizing the negative side effects that come with human contact, the researchers say.

“Research and tourism has a strong positive effect on great apes’ survival since it reduces poaching activities in these areas and gives more ‘political weight’ to the apes and protected areas,” said Fabian Leendertz of Robert Koch-Institut and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. “[The spread of viruses] has been a concern, but people had never proven it. Our demographic analyses of chimpanzees suggest that this started as soon as people got close enough to chimps to transmit diseases. There is a correlation between habituation—the proximity between humans and chimps—and disease outbreaks.”

Commercial hunting and habitat loss are major drivers of the rapid decline of great apes, the researchers said. Ecotourism and research have been widely promoted as a means of providing alternative value for apes and their habitats. While close contact between humans and habituated apes has raised concerns about disease transmission, previous studies had only demonstrated the spread of relatively mild bacterial and parasitic infections from humans to wild apes.

In the new study, the researchers gathered evidence from chimpanzees hit by five distinct respiratory outbreaks between 1999 and 2006 in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. The outbreaks sickened almost all of the chimps and led to a significant number of deaths.

All available tissue samples taken from chimps who had died tested positive for one of two paramyxoviruses: human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) or human metapneumovirus (HMPV), the researchers report. HRSV and HMPV are common causes of respiratory disease in humans and are the leading causes of lower respiratory disease in children and, in developing countries, a major source of infant mortality, the researchers said. In adults, HRSV and HMPV usually cause mild upper-respiratory-tract infection but can lead to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

“The viruses we found are very common,” Leendertz said. “Antibody prevalence in humans is almost up to 100 percent, meaning almost everybody has had contact with these viruses.”

Twenty-four years of mortality data from observed chimpanzees revealed that such respiratory outbreaks could have a long history, Leendertz’s team reported. But, they added, there was some good news: “Survey data show that research presence has had a strong positive effect in suppressing poaching around the research site.”

The researchers have already stepped up guidelines to help minimize the disease risk to chimpanzees, and they urge others to do the same. For example, Leendertz said, they now maintain a distance of at least seven meters, wear masks, and disinfect their boots regularly.

###

The researchers include Sophie Kondgen, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; Hjalmar Kuhl, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; Paul K. N’Goran, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Centre Suisse des Recherches Scientifiques en Cote d’Ivoire, Cote d’Ivoire; Peter D. Walsh, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; Svenja Schenk, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Berlin Veterinary Faculty, Institute of Immunology and Molecular Biology, Berlin, Germany; Nancy Ernst, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Roman Biek, Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK; Pierre Formenty, Ebola Tai¨ Forest Project, World Health Organization (WHO)WHO Office in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire; Kerstin Matz-Rensing, German Primate Center, Gottingen, Germany; Brunhilde Schweiger, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany; Sandra Junglen, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Heinz Ellerbrok, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany; Andreas Nitsche, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany; Thomas Briese, Centre for Infection and Immunity, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY; W. Ian Lipkin, Centre for Infection and Immunity, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY; Georg Pauli, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany; Christophe Boesch, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; and Fabian H. Leendertz, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.

Leave a comment

Filed under africa, apes, biodiversity, wildlife, zoology

Sask. river sturgeon headed for extinction

Hanneke Brooymans – The Star Phoenix

EDMONTON — Canada’s largest freshwater fish could soon find itself on the endangered species list.

And in the North and South Saskatchewan River systems, which span the three Prairie provinces and part of Montana, the population of lake sturgeon — which once shared the planet with dinosaurs — has declined as much as 80 per cent, according to the federal government.

Ottawa is therefore considering using legislation to protect the large, bottom-feeding fish. To that end, it recently ran advertisements, soliciting public reaction to the idea.

But getting the sturgeon on the endangered list could be “very challenging,” said Fred Hnytka, a species-at-risk biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

For instance, it could be difficult to restrict how many are caught along some northern rivers, where First Nations people have a cultural attachment to the fish, Hnytka said.

Lake sturgeon are found in waterways from Alberta to Quebec. They can live for decades — some up to 100 years.

In Alberta alone, they once swam at 48 sites in the North Saskatchewan River and 30 in the South Saskatchewan River. They are now found at 16 and 12 sites, respectively.

In August, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada recommended listing the sturgeon as endangered, blaming over-fishing and habitat loss from dam construction. Adding to the species’ problems is the late and infrequent spawning of its females.

“The species is just so vulnerable, you need to be extra cautious,” said Joe Nelson, a University of Alberta professor emeritus who wrote Fishes of Alberta. “That’s why I would come down in favour of it being listed.”

Terry Dick, a University of Manitoba zoology professor, said it’s a disgrace the species hasn’t been listed yet.

“It was wiped out in so many areas nearly 100 years ago, and we’re still debating it,” said Dick, who wrote the original proposal to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Dick said the government shouldn’t be worried about the challenges of dealing with First Nations, and should seek to involve them directly in the recovery plans.

1 Comment

Filed under biodiversity, canada, endangered, environment, extinction, fish, Ichthyology