Ebola virus has claimed the lives of 8,609 people since beginning its latest rampage in December 2013. While we rightly focus on the epidemic's deadliness on our own kind, everyone ignores that Ebola is a bigger menace for animals.
An April 2014 report revealed that Ebola has wiped out one-third of the world's population of gorillas and chimpanzees since the 1990s. Back then, the world had yet to get serious about the West African outbreak, so tending to an issue concerning wild animals stood no chance. But now that things have settled down a bit, the same report has been revisited again.
For comparison, consider that Ebola has a fatality rate of around 50 percent in human beings. But the same number jumps up to 95 percent and 77 percent when Ebola's devastation on gorillas and chimps, respectively, is taken into account. It means if a great ape contracts Ebola, its chances of survival are almost slim to none.
That's why even though these outbreaks are uncommon, when they do take place, they end up killing almost the entire population of that species in the area affected.
For instance, a 1995 outbreak in Gabon's Minkébé Park killed 90 percent of its inhabitant gorillas. Another episode in the Democratic Republic of the Congo killed 5,000 more in 2003. As a result, estimates claim that there are now only 100,000 or so gorillas left in the world.
Add Ebola's devastation to other threats like illegal hunting and urbanization and it won't be surprising if gorillas go extinct.
Restrictions on great ape research, their elusive nature and our general neglect are why the world's gorilla population is fast heading toward extinction. It's time someone takes notice and shows the same seriousness in eradicating Ebola in apes as they do with human beings.
But there is one glimmer of positive news. Although Ebola runs amok in the wild, a working vaccine for apes already exists – something which has yet to happen for human beings.