The Ebola outbreak that ravaged West Africa in 2013 and 2014 struck fear in the populations of several African nations and seemingly changed life forever. However, humans may not be the only beings affected by this deadly disease. New studies show that great apes have suffered population declines since 1990 due to Ebola, according to One Green Planet.
The Spread of Ebola
Doctors and scientists plan to distribute an experimental vaccine to both humans and apes in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Vaccinating chimpanzees and gorillas from Ebola represents a vital step in the push to save these endangered species. However, there’s more that we can do.
Deforestation has resulted in increased contact between great apes and humans, particularly in 1990 and beyond. As humans encroached on the natural habitat of chimpanzees and gorillas, the big apes were forced to the edges of human settlements and more than likely entered nearby villages, as curious onlookers or in an attempt to find food and shelter. This more frequent contact started the spread of Ebola; the most recent outbreak began in a remote village in Guinea, where the forest sits close to human settlements.
How Ebola Spreads
Ebola is a zoonotic disease, meaning animals and humans can pass the disease from one to another. An outbreak in 1994 started with ape-to-human contact, and scientists believe the most recent outbreak that caused so many deaths may also have resulted from deforestation.
Fruit bats and great apes spread Ebola through their own small, integrated populations. As the animals come in contact with each other more frequently, Ebola spreads faster among great ape populations, and as many as one-third of chimpanzees and gorillas have fallen victim to this disease.
Mortality rates for great apes are even worse than those of humans, notes the New York Post. As many as 95 percent of gorillas that contract the disease die, and 77 percent of chimpanzees that catch Ebola succumb to the disease. The human mortality rate stands at 50 percent.
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Economy Versus Public Health
As human populations grow in West Africa, the economies of these nations become tied to human activity rather than conserving tropical rainforests. Over the past 10 years, as much as 80 percent of Guinea’s forestry has disappeared, and more than 50 percent of Liberia’s forests have been mined by the logging industry. In just a few years, Sierra Leone may become completely devoid of trees.
Habitat loss for chimpanzees also leads to another Ebola problem. Humans in remote villages hunt these animals for meat as a way to get viable sources of protein, which decimates endangered populations even further. When humans come in contact with infected animals — oftentimes those that have been hunted for meat — then move to different areas, the disease spreads to more human and chimpanzee populations than would have otherwise.
Humans must learn to live within their current parameters, otherwise great apes and humans may lose their lives as a result. The most recent Ebola outbreak was the worst yet, and it followed a period of intense deforestation in the areas affected the most.
Humans must learn to keep populations lower through educational initiatives, develop more diversified economies that aren’t tied strictly to slash-and-burn agriculture, and increase the use of accepted agricultural practices that sustain farming rather than destroy native species.
Forests represent natural barriers to the spread of Ebola; chimpanzees and gorillas that stay in more dense forestry tend to keep away from humans and other isolated populations of great apes. A dense tropical rainforest can naturally contain animals to habitats that will suit them best.
Although Ebola has no cure, interested parties can help prevent the spread of this deadly disease by supporting conservation efforts in West Africa that help save tropical rainforests. As scientists have discovered, the health of our rainforests is directly tied to the health of humanity. It’s not enough that doctors develop vaccines and cures for Ebola; instead, a more holistic approach, including the rehabilitation of lost chimpanzee and gorilla habitats, will allow us to ultimately defeat the Ebola virus.Whizzco