Field immobilization for treatment of an unknown illness in a wild chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) at Gombe National Park, Tanzania: findings, challenges, and lessons learned

Abstract

Infectious diseases are widely presumed to be one of the greatest threats to ape conservation in the wild. Human diseases are of particular concern, and the costs and benefits of human presence in protected areas with apes are regularly debated. While numerous syndromes with fatal outcomes have recently been described, precise identification of pathogens remains difficult. These diagnostic difficulties are compounded by the fact that direct veterinary intervention on wild apes is quite rare. Here we present the unique case of a wild chimpanzee at Gombe National Park that was observed with a severe illness and was subsequently examined and treated in the field. Multiple specimens were collected and tested with the aim of identifying the pathogen responsible for the illness. Our findings represent the first extensive screening of a living wild chimpanzee, yet despite our efforts, the cause and source of illness remain unknown. Nevertheless, our findings represent valuable baseline data for the ape conservation community and for comparison with other recent findings. In addition, we present the case here to demonstrate the planning required and multiple types of expertise necessary to maximize the amount of data obtained from such a rare intervention, and to provide lessons learned for future studies.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the Jane Goodall Institute and Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) for initiating and continuing the over 50-year research tradition at Gombe, including providing support for the current health-monitoring project. In addition we thank the field staff, especially Baraka Gilagiza and Matendo Msafiri for assistance during the intervention, and Bill Wallauer and Kristin Mosher at the Gombe Stream Research Centre for collecting behavioral data. We are grateful to Dr. Wayne Berry for viewing video and providing a neurological assessment. Permission and support to carry out research at Gombe were granted by the Government of Tanzania, Tanzania National Parks, Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, and Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute. We thank Yingying Li for technical assistance, Liv Kismartoni for logistical assistance, and Emma Finestone for editorial assistance. Thanks are also due to two anonymous reviewers whose comments greatly improved this manuscript. Samples were imported in accordance with Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora regulations. This work was supported by grants from the US Fish and Wildlife Great Ape Conservation Fund, the Arcus Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health (R01 AI58715).

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Correspondence to Elizabeth Lonsdorf.

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Lonsdorf, E., Travis, D., Ssuna, R. et al. Field immobilization for treatment of an unknown illness in a wild chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) at Gombe National Park, Tanzania: findings, challenges, and lessons learned. Primates 55, 89–99 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-013-0372-4

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Keywords

  • Apes
  • Health
  • Disease
  • Intervention
  • Diagnostics