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Human Health Could Depend on Saving Apes.

Dr. Anthony L. Rose, Ph.D.
Institute for Conservation Education and Development
Antioch University Southern California.

© 1999, Anthony L. Rose, Hermosa Beach, California USA / Anthony_Rose@antiochla.edu New scientific discoveries are raising the value of great apes living in situ, and could change the course of African economic development. During the past decade the drive to sell rain forest hardwood has had a sad side effect - the explosion of bushmeat commerce, facilitated by new logging roads into pristine forests, has grown into a wildlife crisis. Consensus among conservation scientists has led to extraordinary moves to collaborate (Rose, 1998). The first focus has been the struggle against extinction of humankind's closest living genetic kin -- the great apes.

Now, our genetic kinship with apes has been discovered to be progenitor of a crisis that threatens the health of humankind. Chimpanzees have been identified by medical scientists as the source of the viruses that have propagated the world AIDS crisis. Bushmeat hunting along each new logging road could bring out more than ape meat. It could transmit additional variants of SIV which then could mutate and recombine into novel HIV types and further expand the pernicious AIDS plague faced worldwide.

Virologists have begun to present their evidence in journals and at major international conferences (Hahn, 1999). They are telling the public two things. First, we must stop the hunting and butchering of wild chimpanzees in order to avoid transmission of new strains of SIV. Second, we must launch new programs to protect and study wild apes in their natural habitat. Global human health could depend on saving the apes and their homelands.

Chimpanzees are identical to humans in over 98% of their genome, yet they appear to be resistant to damaging effects of the AIDS virus on their immune system. By studying the biological reasons for this difference, AIDS researchers believe that they may be able to obtain important clues concerning the pathogenic basis of HIV-1 in humans and develop new strategies for treating the disease more effectively. In addition, a better understanding of exactly how the chimpanzee's immune system responds to SIV-CPZ infection compared to that of humans is also likely to lead to the development of more effective strategies for an HIV-1 vaccine. Coordinated biomedical research and conservation efforts will be key to preventing further spread of SIV/HIV and AIDS.

The connection of wild apes and AIDS alters the priorities for conservation and retrovirus research. We are challenged to work in collaboration, not in the usual competitive modes. The battles among egos, professions, organizations, and nations must be set aside now. Having worked in both medical and conservation arenas, I remain hopeful that this can be accomplished and that we can form and maintain truly effective multidisciplinary teams to confront this complex crisis in unity. The future of apes and other wildlife, equatorial ecosystems, African societies, and human health depends on our good will and our good work.

Hahn, B. H. (1999) "The origin of HIV-1: A puzzle solved?" Abstract for Keynote speech at 6th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, Jan. 31.

Rose, A.L. (in press, 1998) "Growing commerce in African bushmeat destroys great apes and threatens humanity", African Primates, 3 (1/2)

Readers are invited to contribute ideas and talent to the Biosynergy Institute's Bushmeat Project. Write The Bushmeat Project at P. O. Box 488, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254 or e-mail to discuss how you can help.
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