Research days back at home in Portland can be just as adventurous—mentally—as any on the road. Sometimes they take me down some really interesting roads, and like being in the field, sometime down some backroads I never thought I would be wandering down when the day started. Like this morning trolling through my Great Apes 2020 Twitter feed a posting from the Economist:
It rattles my brain because I know how susceptible chimps, gorillas and bonobos are to the same alphabet soup of infectious diseases we are. “Virtually all diseases that can harm us can harm the great apes since we share so many genetic and physiologic properties,” (These diseases are referred to as zoonosis.) In fact, many of those diseases have now been found to have their great ape origins in non-human great apes — Ebola, HIV for example. The disease river flows the other way as well — great apes infected with everything from polio to pneumonia, even anthrax from humans and their livestock. So when the Economist shot off this little flare about malaria I was drawn to the light, and down this little back road I started to wander. A single google search was crazy, opening dozens of opportunities, and now it’s noon, four hours later!
One of those wanderings turned up this from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the Robert Koch-Institute “In the course of this 2-month study almost every individual chimpanzee of the group was found positive at least once”, says Hélène De Nys, “Our data further suggest that at every point in time at least one individual of this chimpanzee group is infected”. Going on to suggest infant chimpanzee mortality to malaria maybe higher than we previously suspected, as is the case with infant humans.
With Ebola quieting down in West Africa I have not been focused daily on zoonotic disease, but disease is a critical component to the bigger ecological story playing out in great ape habitats. Having a malaria infection (three actually) is something I share with my great ape cousins, this Economist story was a reminder just how many drivers are threatening the survival of all great apes.
Okay, where’s my map app, gotta get back to the main road.
Notes & Sources
2015-2016 Global research and reporting on great apes made possible in part through the generous financial support of the Philadelphia Zoo