Ebola Virus, one of the most deadly of all viral diseases, has killed more than 5,000 gorillas in the Republic of Congo and Gabon, located in central Africa. In addition to commercial hunting of gorillas, this outbreak of ebola could be sufficient to push gorillas into extinction.
The study, published in the US journal Science, looked at gorilla colonies in Republic of Congo and Gabon. Ebola is also blamed for many chimpanzee deaths.
Ebola is one of the most deadly viruses known to primates, killing more than 1,000 people since it burst upon the medical scene in 1976. Ebola causes a viral haemorrhagic fever characterized by massive internal and external bleeding. Ebola kills up to 90% of those it infects. There is no vaccine and no known cure.
The researchers, led by Magdalena Bermejo of the University of Barcelona, focused on western gorillas, one of two gorilla species. The other is the eastern gorilla.
In 2002 and 2003, several outbreaks of Ebola flared up in human populations in Gabon and Congo.
The researchers found a "massive die-off" in gorillas in Congo's Lossi Sanctuary between 2002 and 2004.
"The Lossi outbreak killed about as many gorillas as survive in the entire eastern gorilla species," the study claims.
The researchers concluded that the apes were not only infected by other species, such as fruit bats, but were also transmitting the virus among themselves.