Researchers in Tanzania have confirmed that chimpanzees are catching human viruses. Virginia Tech’s Dr. Taranjit Kaur and researchers from the US Center of Disease Control and from Japan are working together to determine how harmful the human viruses are to chimps, and to figure out how the viruses are transmitted to them.
The researchers increasingly suspect that human scientists and eco-tourists are the source of the respiratory viruses found in chimpanzees. If this suspicion is borne out in research, it could be disastrous for those African countries whose economies depend increasingly on eco-tourism. This would also be very bad news for the chimps, as their protection also depends on the income from eco-tourism.
Chimpanzees are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. They share some 96% of our genome, many of our facial expressions, and transmission of culture from one generation to the next. Sadly, it looks as though their very kindred with us is threatening to undo them.