An Indian origin researcher at Virginia Tech and colleagues have found strong evidence that chimpanzees are becoming sick from viral infectious diseases that are surprisingly human in origin.
Lead researcher Dr. Taranjit Kaur and her colleagues studied chimpanzees residing at Tanzania's Mahale Mountains National Park, as part of a research project funded by the National Science Foundation.
The researchers observed that the chimpanzees had been suffering from a respiratory disease that was likely caused by a variant of a human paramyxovirus.
A research article in the American Journal of Primatology says that this work complements and validates a previous study that describes evidence of human viruses in deceased chimpanzees found in West Africa's Tai Forest.
Dr. Kaur hints that the chimpanzees may have contracted infectious diseases from scientists and tourists who generally visit the Mahale Mountains National Park to study and view them.
"Although evidence increasingly suggests that infectious diseases may be transmitted from research teams and eco-tourists to endangered great apes, we believe that this is still a bit of a leap and more research must be conducted in order to establish a comfortable level of proof," said Kaur, who has been unravelling the mystery in collaboration with scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and researchers from Japan who are conducting behavioural studies on Mahale chimpanzees.
"Exactly where this virus has come from and the specific route of transmission remains unclear at this time," added Dr. Kaur.
It is believed that the scientific establishment of a linkage between visiting scientist and tourists and the viruses threatening the endangered chimpanzee population might affect the eco-tourism industry, which is an important source of economic development in the region.
Dr. Kaur is of the opinion that further research is required to protect the region through science-based changes and interventions.