Colds spread rapidly between gorillas as they stand close together

We have all had to get used to the term ‘social distancing’ over the last 18 months.

But it turns out that it is not only people who need to keep their place to ward off the risk of disease.

Coughs and colds also spread rapidly between mountain gorillas when they are close together, a new study has found.

Researchers discovered that respiratory infections are much more likely to spread within wild groups of monkeys than they are between neighbors.

Scroll down for video

Keep distance!  Coughs and colds also spread quickly between mountain gorillas when they are close together, a new study has found

Keep distance! Coughs and colds also spread quickly between mountain gorillas when they are close together, a new study has found


Previous research has shown that monkeys, including chimpanzees and gorillas, can be infected by the common cold virus.

Not only that, but infectious disease is now listed among the top three threats to some large monkey groups.

While many viruses, bacteria and parasites circulate in monkeys without causing harm, some respiratory infections that are mild to humans are known to cause serious illness or death in our closest living relatives.

The Ebola virus is also thought to have killed thousands of chimpanzees and gorillas in Africa.

Fears have even been raised about the threat coronavirus can pose to monkey populations, with wildlife activists demanding swift action to protect them.

Because humans and gorillas are so closely related, our monkey cousins ​​can catch many of the same diseases as us.

However, infections that are relatively mild in humans can have major consequences for gorillas and chimpanzees, where a case of cold or flu can be fatal.

Therefore, this study is important because it sought to understand how the diseases are transmitted through groups in an attempt to help shape future conservation strategies.

It was conducted by researchers from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.

They studied 15 respiratory outbreaks over the last 17 years to understand how the infections spread through a population of mountain gorillas.

‘If we can better understand how diseases have spread in the past, we can better prepare for and respond to outbreaks in the future,’ says Dr. Robin Morrison, lead author of the study.

Researchers found that the close contact and strong social relationships within gorilla groups allowed respiratory diseases to spread rapidly between the monkeys.

What they could not predict, however, were the transfer patterns from a group’s social network. In one of the outbreaks, it took only three days before 45 of the 46 group members started coughing.

This differed from the results of a previous study in which the more dispersed social organization of chimpanzees led to slower transmission in general.

Researchers were also able to predict the spread of diseases based on the chimpanzees’ social networks – for example, those at the core of the network were more likely to show clinical signs than those with fewer connections.

The good news for the endangered gorilla population in this recent study is that researchers discovered that there were limited opportunities for infections to spread between neighboring groups.

‘The outbreaks we investigated all seemed to remain within a single group rather than spreading through the wider population,’ said Yvonne Mushimiyimana, a co-author of the project.

Because humans and gorillas are so closely related, our monkey cousins ​​can catch many of the same diseases as us.

Because humans and gorillas are so closely related, our monkey cousins ​​can catch many of the same diseases as us.

‘Gorilla groups interact quite rarely, and when they do, they tend to keep their distance and rarely approach within the crucial 1-2 meter distance.’

This distance to nearby groups can actually help protect the wider population by limiting wider transmission of these infections, experts said.

However, it raised the question of where the outbreaks came from if neighboring gorilla groups did not infect each other.

Previous studies of wild monkeys have blamed pathogens of human origin.

One example is in Uganda, where two nearby chimpanzee communities began showing signs of respiratory infection at the same time, only for genetic analysis to reveal that the infections were caused by two completely separate human pathogens.

It was a surprise to researchers, but showed that both infections had been transmitted independently of humans instead of spreading between two chimpanzee communities.

‘Our best guess is that these infections in mountain gorillas come from humans,’ Morrison said.

‘It really highlights the importance of the ongoing efforts to minimize the exposure of wild great apes to human diseases during activities such as research, tourism and protection.

‘Vaccination, mask use and maintaining proper distance are all more important than ever in the midst of a global pandemic.’

The purpose of the research is to identify strategies for limiting disease prevalence. Researchers hope their study will help understand how transmission can work in different gorilla populations.

‘The results of this study suggest that since respiratory diseases are rapidly transmitted within gorilla groups and transmission between groups is much less common, strategies that prevent initial transmission within a group may be most effective,’ says Dr. Tara Stoinski, President and Chief Scientific Officer of the Fossey Foundation.

‘For Covid-19 and other human respiratory pathogens, it means preventing the first introduction of a disease from a human to a gorilla.’

She added: ‘Although the research was completed well before the appearance of Covid-19, the current pandemic highlights the fact that it is more important than ever to minimize the transmission routes of monkeys that pose a risk to wild great apes and humans. alike. ‘

The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.


A study published in January 2017 warned that for most of the world’s 504 primate species, it is now ’11th hour’ on earth – with almost two-thirds facing extinction and 75 percent of the population in decline.

Scientists have warned that the world's primates are in danger due to human activities

Scientists have warned that the world’s primates are in danger due to human activities

Behind the collapse in numbers is an increase in industrial agriculture, large-scale cattle farming, deforestation, oil and gas drilling, mining, dam construction and road construction.

The illegal trade in bushmeat – killing monkeys and monkeys for their meat – also decimates the animals, just as changing climates and diseases spread from humans to monkeys.

Growing trees to produce palm oil – used in many popular foods – is a particular threat to primates in Indonesia, as is mining for gold and sapphires in Madagascar.

With many species living in rainforests, the felling of millions of acres of forest to cover the growing demand for timber or to clear land for agriculture is destroying their habitat and making the population more fragmented.


Leave a Comment