Moirai Blog

What happens when habitat loss is combined with anthrax?

Written by: Clare-Anne Canfield  

Monday, August 13th, 2018

Written by: Clare-Anne Canfield

Monday, August 13th, 2018  

The chimpanzee is one of our closest living genetic relatives.  Photo Credit: Author unknown

The answer is extinction.

Bonobos and chimpanzees are the closest living relatives to humans. Chimpanzees prefer living in dense rainforest in Central and West Africa. Chimpanzees and bonobos are both listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the western subspecies of chimpanzees that live in Africa's  Taï National Park are critically endangered. Chimpanzees are more male dominant and aggressive, whereas bonobos are female dominant and prefer relaxing and enjoying life when they are not being shot at by poachers.

Habitat destruction and poaching are the main culprits behind the dwindling population of chimpanzees, but that's just the beginning.  A species of bacteria, Bacillus cereus biovar anthracis, is contributing to significant chimpanzee deaths.
Bacillus cereus.  Photo Credit: Mogana Das Murtey and Patchamuthu Ramasamy

Bacillus cereus strains can cause disease, but not all strains are bad and some even act as probiotics in humans. Bacillus cereus biovar anthracis (Bcbva), on the other hand, is what happens when Bacillus cereus gets bored and starts hanging out with the wrong crowd - that crowd being Bacillus anthracis, which is the causative agent of anthrax. A few too many drinks and Bacillus cereus ended up with new anthrax genes via plasmids from Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax is deadly without proper treatment and the last I checked, wildlife do not visit the emergency room all that often.

Bcbva is killing wildlife throughout the African rainforest, but notably the critically endangered western subspecies of chimpanzees. Infected chimps display a rapid decline in activity, labored breathing and death. Researchers believe that this anthrax causing bacteria will eliminate all chimpanzees that live in the Taï National Park, Côte d'Ivoire, Africa within 150 years. Add in poaching and you probably see the sad ending here.

Scientists are attempting to reduce deaths through vaccinations and many questions are being addressed about human susceptibility to this new strain.

At the rate of human population growth, habitat destruction, and disease, just how long will it be until the only diversity we see are domesticated animals?
Deforestation. Photo Credit: Crustmania