A Retrospective Analysis of Factors Correlated to Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) Respiratory Health at Gombe National Park, Tanzania
Infectious disease and other health hazards have been hypothesized to pose serious threats to the persistence of wild ape populations. Respiratory disease outbreaks have been shown to be of particular concern for several wild chimpanzee study sites, leading managers, and researchers to hypothesize that diseases originating from and/or spread by humans pose a substantial risk to the long-term survival of chimpanzee populations. The total chimpanzee population in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, has declined from 120–150 in the 1960s to about 100 by the end of 2007, with death associated with observable signs of disease as the leading cause of mortality. We used a historical data set collected from 1979 to 1987 to investigate the baseline rates of respiratory illness in chimpanzees at Gombe National Park, Tanzania, and to analyze the impact of human-related factors (e.g., banana feeding, visits to staff quarters) and non-human-related factors (e.g., sociality, season) on chimpanzee respiratory illness rates. We found that season and banana feeding were the most significant predictors of respiratory health clinical signs during this time period. We discuss these results in the context of management options for the reduction of disease risk and the importance of long-term observational data for conservation.