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Disease transmission from humans to wild apes perspectives on the costs and benefits of research and conservation.

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American Journal of Primatology 70:715 (2008)
Disease Transmission From Humans to Wild Apes: Perspectives on the Costs
and Benefits of Research and Conservation
Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois
As many of you may be aware, a recent article in
the journal Current Biology (Köndgen et al., Curr
Biol 18:260–264, 2008) offers direct evidence of
respiratory disease transmission from a human
vector, possibly researchers and ecotourists, to wild
chimpanzees. The authors of this manuscript detail
recent cases of respiratory disease outbreaks in 1999,
2004, and 2006 at Taı̈ Forest, Côte d’Ivoire. Autopsies
revealed that each of seven chimpanzees that died
tested positive for human paramyxoviruses. Similar
disease events are known or suspected in other
chimpanzee populations and have been a major cause
of mortality for decades (see the research article in
this issue of the American Journal of Primatalogy by
Taranjit Kaur and colleagues documenting the presence of a fatal human-related metapneumovirus in
wild chimpanzees in Tanzania and Williams et als
paper on causes of death of chimpanzees at Gombe,
Tanzania). This has sparked a series of popular
media reports and considerable debate concerning
the costs and benefits to surviving ape populations of
scientific research, methods researchers should use to
monitor and prevent disease transmission to apes
from the local human population, ecotourists, and
scientists, the development of risk assessment plans
for vaccinating and providing health care to wild
primates, and the value of research and tourism in
conserving primate habitats and populations. We are
at a critical moment in primatology and primate
conservation in which we need to rethink, reevaluate, and develop new protocols to minimize
disease transmission risk based on the collective
expertise of researchers in fields such as behavioral
ecology, anthropology, epidemiology, veterinary medicine, conservation and ecosystem health, pharmacology, government, and industry.
As executive editor of the American Journal of
Primatology I feel that issues of great ape research
and ecosystems health are critically important to
our readership, and we have decided to use the
August 2008 issue to introduce a new commentary
format in AJP. Our goal is to present a focused,
informed, and balanced forum for the discussion of
these issues from a range of scientific perspectives.
To this end, I have worked with Dr. Tony Goldberg
of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the
University of Illinois, Urbana to invite a set of
distinguished scholars including field and laboratory researchers, wildlife veterinarians, virologists,
and conservation biologists to write commentaries
on the benefits and potential negative consequences
of research on wild apes, especially as they pertain
to disease transmission. This forum also will serve
as a venue for publishing rational recommendations
on how to best limit disease transmission to apes
and other primates in the contexts of research,
conservation, and tourism. I encourage our readers
to write letters to AJP in response to these
commentaries or to contact our editorial board if
there are important issues that you feel should be
featured in future commentaries. Some of the
letters we receive will be published in future
volumes of our journal.
The contributors to the great ape health commentary include researchers working at several sites
across Africa. I thank them for contributing to this
volume. Although we lack commentaries from
scholars studying ecosystem health and the possibility of disease transmission from humans to bonobos
or orangutans, we see the existing commentaries as a
first step in an important new direction for the
American Journal of Primatology. Our goal is to
provide our readers with an active intellectual forum
for the exchange of ideas, in addition to the
publication of research articles, review articles, and
brief reports.
Correspondence to: Paul A. Garber, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61802.
DOI 10.1002/ajp.20561
Published online 21 May 2008 in Wiley InterScience (www.
r 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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cost, research, conservative, transmission, benefits, wild, disease, apes, perspectives, human
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