MPI-EVA Department of Primatology  
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  The collaborative study on emerging infectious diseases in great apes  
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  The Great Ape Task Force  
  Great Apes Emergency Task Force  
Goals: Support of field sites when great apes are showing severe symptoms or cases of death are observed.
Members: vets with experiences in the field of health problems in wild great apes
Task of the vets: Clinical follow up, treatment, necropsies
Find here a short report about outbreaks GAHMU has been involved thus far.
  Following the IMPACT - protocol (Internet-supported Management Program to Assist Conservation Technologies) developed by the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (link), this task force will offer case- and site-specific help to field-sites encountering an high risk of an outbreak of a disease.  


  1. Inquiry on which field sites would be interested in being included
  2. Evaluation of the field site equipment (if necessary, may also be done by permanent field staff)
    • Assessment of infrastructure available (transportation, fridge, liquid nitrogen)
    • Assessment of “first aid” possibilities (vets of the area, medical doctors)
    • Assessment of the possibilities for training permanent staff (researchers, assistants) for necropsies and treatment
    • Assessment of material needed for necropsies and treatment
    • Assessment of laboratories and analyses available in the country (discussion of capacity of lab to perform fast analyses)
    • Formation of staff regarding observation of sick animals and non-invasive sample collection
    • Organisation of export permits for samples for each country in order to avoid delay when samples must be exported immediately for rapid diagnostics

From this we can know what material is needed in a given site, what experience is available and therefore what support is needed.




a) Field

  • Vets working within a project in an African country should be responsible for field sites within reach (good travel connections given).
  • Vets from other countries (e.g. USA, Europe) should be responsible for a certain number of other field sites subdivided per species and field site.

Ideally, vets more experienced with chimps should mainly be responsible for chimp sites, those with experiences with gorilla should cover this species.
Assignment of specific field sites to individual vets enhances the efficiency of handling the problem in the case of an emergency since the vet will be familiar with the site and circumstances. In case “the vet” of the field site is not able to travel immediately (no time, traveling elsewhere, finances finished, no visa), another vet of the crew should take his place. Therefore all information on the site and the plans should always be made available to all members of the vet task force. The vet responsible for a certain number of sites (depending on the sources and time he can make available) should also be the one performing the preparatory visit to the site.

Standard protocols for necropsies and sample storage will be discussed and made available soon.

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b) Analysis

To make the shipment of samples easier and keep track of all the samples that might be handled by the force, we suggest to have that centralised at the Robert Koch-Institut in Berlin.

  • First, the central role of the institute in human health allows them to rapidly deliver Guthrie permits (for importation of samples) and guarantee of safety (to samples that might be potentially dangerous). This will facilitate dramatically import into the EU.
  • Second, Fabian Leendertz will make sure that all samples will be entered in a databank so that it will at any time be possible to know all samples that have been collected, what has been done with them and where they are. He will also centralise the results for analysis and diagnostic.
  • Third, he will organise the shipment to other laboratories that have agreed to contribute (see list below) or coordinate the investigations to enable a conclusive diagnostics. This last point is also important since samples do not represent an unlimited amount of material and need therefore to be used carefully and optimally.

Fabian Leendertz will co-ordinate through the Robert Koch-Institut the distribution of the samples (or extracted DNA/RNA), the updating of all samples that have been collected, and fast and effective analyses.


Laboratories participating:

Laboratories participating must guarantee:

  • Samples of great apes are analysed immediately.
  • Results are communicated immediately to the vets of the “task force”, the field site, field site responsible and the co-ordinator.
  • Results will be discussed with the vets and field workers and published together.
  We already have compiled a first list of labs interested in participating. Labs interested are free to add their names and pathogen of interest. Priority is given to labs that are capable of analysing a broad spectrum of pathogens in order to save time and keep the network simple.

In case a local lab is capable of performing analysis for a certain pathogen, it may also be possible to have the pathogen being analysed according to proximity to the lab (e.g. Ebola at CIRF for Gabon and Congo vs. Ebola at RKI for Tanzania and Côte d’Ivoire for example).

As a mid-term goal for the participation of vets and laboratories, a quality assessment should be implemented.

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 image: Mike Serres