Writing at theconversation.com, Meera Inglis, a PhD. in conservation policy at the University of Sheffield, calls attention to a perhaps little known, or not often considered, fact: The Ebola virus has put a sizable dent in Africa's great ape populations.
In her piece Inglis calls Ebola "the single greatest threat to the survival of gorillas and chimpanzees" and cites mortality rates of about 95% for gorillas and 77% for chimpanzees.
She also notes that by some estimates 33% of gorilla and chimpanzee populations worldwide have died from Ebola since the 1990s.
"We need both short-term solutions to halting the spread of Ebola and long-term ones to prevent future outbreaks," Inglis writes. She suggests vaccination programs in the short run, and in the long run a restoration and enlargement of great ape habitats as well as better protection for them from hunters.
With respect to vaccination, Inglis cites trials on chimpanzees of an encouraging new vaccine that trains the immune system to identify and defend against Ebola and does not appear to harm the animals.
The medicine, however, has not been tested against the live virus, due to European regulations banning or restricting medical research on great apes because of the creatures' cognitive similarities to humans. "The question is whether or not we should make an exception in this case," Inglis writes.
Habitat restoration and greater protection from hunters, meanwhile, have their own obstacles. "Unfortunately," says Inglis, "there appears to be a lack of political will to implement policies which would bring viable solutions into effect."
"If we do not act fast," she adds, "these may prove to be the last decades in which apes can continue to live in their natural habitat."