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Ebola has killed a third of the world's chimpanzee and gorilla populations, say conservationists

Published:Wednesday | January 28, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Ebola has wiped out a third of the world's chimpanzee and gorilla populations and could threaten the survival of these already endangered great apes, conservationists have warned.

The current Ebola epidemic in West Africa is the worst known among humans, killing 8,641 people, according to the latest World Health Organization figures.

But outbreaks have taken place sporadically in Central Africa since the first known case in 1976, and the virus is considered a major threat to gorillas and chimpanzees.

Ape epidemics go unnoticed

In an article for the Jane Goodall Institute, Ria Ghai, an ecologist, wrote that a third of the world's chimpanzees and gorillas have died from Ebola since the 1990s. "Unlike human epidemics, wild ape epidemics tend to go unnoticed for months or even years," she wrote.

Some of the previous Ebola outbreaks among humans are believed to have stemmed from infected gorillas and chimpanzees, found dead in the forest and butchered for food.

Conservationists have called for greater resources to develop a vaccine to help save the animals from extinction. But there are concerns that it could be seen as competing with human research.

According to the conservation group the World Wildlife Fund, the Ebola mortality rate is estimated at 95 per cent in gorillas and 77 per cent in chimpanzees.