Infectious disease should be a key consideration in wildlife conservation, suggests a study focused on primates in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, published by PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. The study investigated the parasite Cryptosporidium and cross-species transmission risks among humans, wild primates and domesticated animals within the greater Gombe ecosystem.
“We found that people are likely exposing the endangered chimpanzees of Gombe to a particular species of Cryptosporidium, which may be contributing to their decline,” says Michele Parsons, a PhD student in Emory University’s departments of Environmental Sciences and Environmental Health. “It appears to be a case of spillover, or exchange of a pathogen, from humans to animals, instead of the other way around.”
The spillover of any one pathogen between species, Parson adds, “is an indicator that an ecological connection exists, with potential for other pathogens to emerge.”
The study also revealed that some of the chimpanzees are infected with a species of Cryptosporidium associated with pigs. “No domesticated pigs reside in the village just outside the park, so we think it’s likely that the source of infection is wild pigs living in the forest,” Parsons says.
In addition to being a student in Emory’s Population Biology, Ecology and Evolution Graduate Program, Parsons is a research microbiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases.
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