You probably already heard about the Ebola virus right? The news once became headlines everywhere especially during the outbreaks in Uganda. Ebola virus infects humans and non-humans as well as primates and pigs. Ebola virus called Zaire ebolavirus and the illness caused by the virus called EVD or Ebola virus disease. Everyone is being concerned with this virus, especially during the outbreaks because it can cause serious illness, from fever, fatigue, diarrhea, weakness, vomiting, stomach pain, even bruising and bleeding. These horrifying symptoms are not appearing immediately after the expose but instead, it takes days, up to 8 to 10 days after.
The Ebola virus can transmit through contact with blood, urine, vomit, breast milk, vomit, and other body fluids to the skin or eyes, nose, and mouth.
As it said earlier, Ebola can also infect non-humans as well, including gorillas. Basically, gorillas can catch all types of diseases from humans, including the Ebola virus disease. But how could they get Ebola?
How can Ebola infect the gorilla?
The outbreaks of Ebola in gorillas
In 2004, scientists estimated that at least 95 percent of the gorilla population in the northern part of the Republic of Congo was killed by the Ebola virus. In the same period, Ebola has also killed 5.000 gorillas in Congo and Gabon areas. The number is getting worrier as the finding in 2011 estimated that the Ebola virus was responsible for the death of one-third of the world’s lowland gorilla population and chimpanzees as well, putting primates’ population in a big, big threat, including the mountain gorillas too. However, the calculation is not providing the exact numbers because Ebola’s impact toward animals can be hard to quantify, but still, the toll has been already alarming. Thousands of great apes, including gorilla, have found dead because of this Ebola virus.
How the Ebola virus transmits to Gorilla
- Bodily fluids contact
The gorillas may get the Ebola virus from humans. Gorillas can get infected with the Ebola virus just the same as how humans get it. The Ebola virus transmits from direct skin contact with the bodily fluids of the infected ones.
- Mourning behavior
One of the interesting findings is that the Ebola virus in Gorillas can spread from their behavior of mourning. Remember that animals can also feel emotions, including sad and grief. Like humans, gorillas have speculated feeling grief and mourning to the death of their significant or family members. They have been known to groom and touch the bodies of other gorillas, which can increase the risk of the transmission of the Ebola virus in the population of the gorilla.
- Communal behavior
It is also found that male gorillas that live solitary were likely to be infected by the Ebola virus than those who live in groups. Individual gorillas surely would have less physical contact or chance to mourn and touch the deceased gorillas. The virus can also spread quickly from one group of the gorilla to one another. When the dominant or alpha male in a gorilla group dies, the group will disband and the female will join another group or individual gorilla males. The problem happens when the female gorilla who had contact with the dead infected gorilla joins the other group, then spread the Ebola virus in it.
- Habituated gorillas’ sociable personality
A thousand mountain gorillas or approximately 60 percent of them in the world are habituated in conservation, research, or even tourism sites. Habituated gorillas are friendlier and more sociable because they are used to humans interaction than the non-habituated ones. This condition puts them at higher risk to get infected with the Ebola virus from direct contact.
The main difference in how the Ebola virus infects between human and gorilla is the condition of population density and the capacity for medical intervention. Gorillas definitely cannot explain their symptoms clearly, unlike humans who can spot their health problems by themselves. They cannot quarantine themselves, thus making the outbreaks getting faster among the population, especially if it is the small population.
Ebola is putting the population of gorillas in many regions at stakes, especially among the subspecies of the eastern gorilla like mountain gorilla and Grauer’s gorilla. Even without the threat of Ebola virus outbreaks, the number of gorilla’s population is already in an alarming situation due to habitat loss from human activities, such as agriculture, forest destruction, charcoal degrading, and illegal mining. Humans also hunt them for bushmeat with snares trap. Not to mention that climate change is posing as a threat as well!
Hunt them down for bushmeat is putting humans in the risk of other Ebola outbreaks too since the previous ones often started with a bushmeat hunter who contaminated or handled infected animals. Thus, it is important to reduce the trade of bushmeat so we can prevent any future human outbreaks. It is also important to monitor the wild population of apes and fruit bats as well, because the virus may have been circulating among the population of West African fruit bats too, to predict the virus outbreaks.
As for the conclusion, we know that Ebola can infect gorillas in the same way how the virus infects humans, which is from bodily fluids contact with skin, mouth, nose, and eyes. It is also known that some behaviors in gorillas may contribute to the Ebola outbreaks in the gorillas’ population, such as mourning behavior toward the other dead gorillas and their communal behavior. The habituated gorilla might also have a higher risk of Ebola because they often have direct contact with a human in the conservation or tourist sites.
It is essential to be concerned about Ebola virus outbreaks in the population of gorilla because it may lead to future Ebola outbreaks in humans. The number of their population itself is already decreasing due to habitat loss, mining activities, and climate change which force them to move from place to place to find a new home.