Journey to
  Place of the conference:   Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig
  Date of the conference:    6th - 9th of May 2004
  Diseases are a serious threat for the last remaining populations of wild living great apes. Besides the two well known threats, “hunting” and “loss of habitat,” the recent Ebola and other outbreaks among great ape populations have demonstrated that diseases must also be considered a major threat to our closest relatives, the great apes.

Even though diseases among wild living great apes under human observation have been observed by many field workers, detailed information and descriptions of first-hand experiences are rarely published or distributed thinly among journals with widely disparate academic audiences. For far too long, the focus of great ape behaviour researchers, ecologists and conservationists has been separated from the one followed by scientists working in the field of great ape medical sciences. Today, due partly to severe health problems in great apes populations in the wild (Ebola, measles, polio and unexplained cases of death), more scientists are calling for a connection between these fields.

A major limitation to progress is the insufficient knowledge about infectious diseases and transmission of pathogens in wild great apes. An interdisciplinary approach could help to expand the knowledge base for protecting the health of great ape populations and could also help in the understanding of disease evolution and its impact on primate evolution. To facilitate this interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary approach, we are organizing a three-day symposium to provide a venue for discussions, exchanges of experience and ideas for researchers, conservationists, and health specialists working with great apes in the wild.

In the course of the conference, we are proposing the creation of a network called “Great Ape Health Monitoring Unit” (GAHMU) that will provide drafts for health care plans, outbreak protocols, and promote the development and use of new, non-invasive methods of monitoring the health of wild great apes, and in cases of death, effective methods to identify the causative pathogens.

First information about the main goals of GAHMU

The "Great Ape Health Monitoring Unit" (GAHMU)

Main proposed goals of the Great Ape Health Monitoring Unit (GAHMU)

  1. Supply of background information (publications, reports, examples of hygienic plans) for the prevention of disease transmission from humans to great apes and vice versa
  2. Propose Emergency plans in case of disease outbreaks in field sites, including information about:
    • What safety/security measurements to use for people observing sick great apes
    • Actions to undertake to limit the spread of a disease and help sick individuals
    • What to do if a great ape dies (measures before death, post mortem protocol, how to take samples, which samples are important, how to preserve the samples taken, hygienic measurements)
    • In case of “problems handling a outbreak”: Possibility of support by other field veterinarians
  3. Offer immediate advice (treatments and others) from field vets and other persons experienced in working with great apes via email (or fax) if there is a health problem at one field site
  4. Fast screenings for the most important pathogens in case of individuals dying to assess source and threat, and to avoid further spread (if possible)
  5. Development of non-invasive methods for the detection of different pathogens so that regular health checks / follow ups can be conducted without harming great apes.
  6. Meetings on great ape health and other methods of exchange of experiences
  7. New cooperations between different field sites and laboratories

All of these points will be discussed, the input of every potential partner is very welcome.

This organisation will only become possible if there are enough people joining GAHMU in order to have a good background of experience and information to combat health problems in wild living great apes.

All types of great ape (and other primate?) field projects are welcome to participate. We also seek the participation of laboratories interested in analysis of different pathogens, including those pursuing the development of non invasive methods (for ex. Using urine for antibody detection) for the detection of different pathogens. In addition to the applied scientific and conservation orientated aspects of this network many special topics could be developed to contribute to the understanding of disease evolution.