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Saving Rwanda's Gorillas

In late June 2009, a small group of mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park began to fall ill. One by one, 11 of the dozen apes started exhibiting severe respiratory problems. 

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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In late June 2009, a small group of mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park began to fall ill. One by one, 11 of the dozen apes started exhibiting severe respiratory problems. An investigation led by wildlife veterinarian Jean-Felix Kinani found human metapneumovirus (hMPV)—a common cause of lower respiratory infection in children—as the culprit. The finding didn’t come as a complete surprise. While biologists have previously tracked the transmission of disease from animals to humans, wildlife researchers have long suspected the wild apes were falling victim to human diseases, as sometimes happens in zoos.

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