Ebola – something no one wants to hear about anymore. This is because it has been circling the news since its largest outbreak ever in West Africa in February 2014. There is a 50% mortality rate for any human that acquires the virus, which can be transmitted through any bodily fluid. The virus is from the family Filoviridae, and has no currently available treatment. Though many humans have died form Ebola, there are other species that are even more threatened: our close cousins, the great apes.
In the past 20 years, one third of the great ape population has been decimated because of Ebola (1). The virus is much more deadly to the animals than it is to humans, as it has mortality rate of almost 95% (2). As of January 2015, only about 100,000 gorillas are left in the wild, taking Ebola, deforestation, and illegal poaching into account. As their numbers decrease, they are being forced into smaller and smaller areas, presenting less resource options and less hiding areas from hunters. As it is illegal to kill an ape, the issue has quickly become not only an environmental, but also presents political and economical issues as well.
Currently, vaccination research efforts are in place. The mechanisms of the wildlife Ebola vaccine are being taken from the already developed rabies vaccine. Early Ebola vaccines were primitive, with their downfall of administration method. It could only be dispensed by injection, either manually or through darts. This would have made it extremely difficult to vaccinate entire populations of apes. However, the early vaccines were extremely effective; the chimps developed a strong immunity to Ebola with no apparent side effects. In September of 2015, a wildlife biologist at the University of Cambridge was administering an altered rabies vaccine that included an Ebola protein to ten chimpanzees. Six chimps received oral administrations, while four received injections through the thigh. However, shortly after the research began, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed chimps on the endangered species list. This rule automatically prevented research from being conducted on the chimps, so a vaccine will have to be developed in other ways.
Now that research cannot be conducted on chimps directly, scientists are attempting to develop a vaccine that can be administered to a vector species, in hopes that the vector may be able to carry it directly to the apes. For now, however, the future of the world’s great apes remains unknown.