Central Africa has been a relatively safe haven for gorillas and chimpanzees, compared to East and West Africa, where their habitat has been overrun by human expansion. But now thousands of apes in the western part of this region are dying from one of the world's most dreaded diseases: ebola.
A series of ebola outbreaks in humans occurred in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1990s. The virus may have spread from infected primates to hunters killing apes for food or the bush-meat trade. More recently researchers found apes apparently felled by ebola in Gabon's Minkébé forest region. "I'd guess thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of gorillas died there," says William B. Karesh of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Now ebola is striking in the Congo, where the Lossi Gorilla Sanctuary has lost about half of its gorilla population. By the time you read this, Odzala National Park, which has one of the world's highest known densities of gorillas, may have become ebola's next target.John L. Eliot