Anthrax kills wild chimpanzees in a tropical rainforest

Abstract

Infectious disease has joined habitat loss and hunting as threats to the survival of the remaining wild populations of great apes. Nevertheless, relatively little is known about the causative agents1,2,3. We investigated an unusually high number of sudden deaths observed over nine months in three communities of wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) in the Taï National Park, Ivory Coast. Here we report combined pathological, cytological and molecular investigations that identified Bacillus anthracis as the cause of death for at least six individuals. We show that anthrax can be found in wild non-human primates living in a tropical rainforest, a habitat not previously known to harbour B. anthracis. Anthrax is an acute disease that infects ruminants4,5, but other mammals, including humans, can be infected through contacting or inhaling high doses of spores or by consuming meat from infected animals6. Respiratory and gastrointestinal anthrax are characterized by rapid onset, fever, septicaemia and a high fatality rate without early antibiotic treatment6,7. Our results suggest that epidemic diseases represent substantial threats to wild ape populations, and through bushmeat consumption also pose a hazard to human health.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Histological section of lung tissues of the chimpanzee Léo.

References

  1. 1

    Wolfe, N. D. et al. Wild primate populations in emerging infectious disease research: The missing link? Emerg. Infect. Dis. 4, 149–158 (1998)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Ferber, D. Human diseases threaten great apes. Science 289, 1277–1278 (2000)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Walsh, P. D. et al. Catastrophic ape decline in western equatorial Africa. Nature 422, 611–614 (2003)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Smith, K. L. et al. Bacillus anthracis diversity in Kruger National Park. J. Clin. Microbiol. 38, 3780–3784 (2000)

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Turnbull, P. C. B., Doganay, M., Lindeque, P. M., Aygen, B. & McLaughlin, J. Serology and anthrax in humans, livestock and Etosha National Park wildlife. Epidemiol. Infect. 108, 299–313 (1992)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Sirisanthana, T. & Brown, A. E. Anthrax of the gastrointestinal tract. Emerg. Infect. Dis. 8, 649–651 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Beatty, M. E., Ashford, D. A., Griffin, P. M., Tauxe, R. V. & Sobel, J. Gastrointestinal anthrax: review of the literature. Arch. Intern. Med. 163, 2527–2531 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Hill, K., Boesch, C., Goodall, J., Pusey, A., Williams, J. & Wrangham, R. Mortality rates among wild chimpanzees. J. Hum. Evol. 40, 437–450 (2001)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Leroy, E. M. et al. Multiple Ebola virus transmission events and rapid decline of central African wildlife. Science 303, 387–390 (2004)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Formenty, P. et al. Ebola virus outbreak among wild chimpanzees living in a rain forest of Côte d'Ivoire. J. Infect. Dis. 179(Suppl. 1), 120–126 (1999)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Boesch, C. & Boesch-Achermann, H. The Chimpanzees of the Taï Forest: Behavioural Ecology and Evolution (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2000)

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Ellerbrok, H. et al. Rapid and sensitive identification of pathogenic and apathogenic Bacillus anthracis by real-time PCR. FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 214, 51–59 (2002)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Andersen, G. L., Simchock, J. M. & Wilson, K. H. Identification of a region of genetic variability among Bacillus anthracis strains and related species. J. Bacteriol. 178, 377–384 (1996)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Jackson, P. J. et al. Characterisation of the variable-number tandem repeats in vrrA from different Bacillus anthracis isolates. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 63, 1400–1405 (1997)

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Keim, P. et al. Multiple-locus variable-number tandem repeat analysis reveals genetic relationships within Bacillus anthracis. J. Bacteriol. 182, 2928–2936 (2000)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Vasconcelos, D. et al. Pathology of inhalation anthrax in cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis). Lab. Invest. 83, 1201–1209 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Boutin, J. P., Debonne, J. M. & Rey, J. L. Apparition du charbon humain en forêt Ivoirienne. Méd. Tropicale 45, 79–81 (1985)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Leendertz, F. H. et al. High variety of different STLV-1 strains in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) of the Taï National Park, Côte d'Ivoire. J. Virol. 78, 4352–4356 (2004)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Bailes, E. et al. Hybrid origin of SIV in chimpanzees. Science 300, 1713 (2003)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Hahn, B., Shaw, G. M., De Cock, K. M. & Sharp, P. M. AIDS as a zoonosis: scientific and public health implications. Science 287, 607–614 (2000)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Vigilant, L., Hofreiter, M., Siedel, H. & Boesch, C. Paternity and relatedness in wild chimpanzee communities. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 98, 12890–12895 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Drosten, C. et al. Rapid detection and quantification of RNA of Ebola and Marburg viruses, Lassa virus, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus, Rift Valley fever virus, dengue virus, and yellow fever virus by real-time reverse transcription-PCR. J. Clin. Microbiol. 40, 2323–2330 (2002)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank the Ivorian authorities for long-term support, especially the Ministry of the Environment and Forests as well as the Ministry of Research, the directorship of the Taï National Park, and the Swiss Research Center in Abidjan. We are grateful to P. Emmerich and H. Schmitz at the Bernhard-Nocht-Institut for VHF analyses. For technical support we thank S. Yumlu, T. Deschner, E. Normand, S. Pociuli, H. Emmel, and also U. Erikli for copy editing. This work was supported by the Robert Koch-Institut and the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Heinz Ellerbrok.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Table 1

Characteristics of the chimpanzees analysed Supplementary Table 1 presents all chimpanzees that were analysed in this work with name, group age and sex. This list includes the date of death or disappearance, the observed symptoms and the results from anthrax diagnostics. (DOC 28 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Leendertz, F., Ellerbrok, H., Boesch, C. et al. Anthrax kills wild chimpanzees in a tropical rainforest. Nature 430, 451–452 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02722

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing