August 3rd, 2009
06:36 PM ET

Dispatches from the field: Virus hunting in Cameroon

Program Note: Today, a report about the discovery of the origin of Malaria was released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Dr. Nathan Wolfe, an epidemiologist, authored the report. Wolfe leads the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative (GVFI), which has been working with the  Cameroon government, Limbe Wildlife Sanctuary and the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund/Ape Action Africa to learn more about common diseases of wild animals and to explore the origins of human diseases in order to predict and prevent them. Read these dispatches from members of Wolfe's research team in Cameroon. And tune in tonight to hear from Dr. Wolfe – a so-called virus hunter – and to learn more about the discovery. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/08/03/art.malaria.chimp.cameroon1.jpg caption="Much of the research performed by GVFI takes place in a Chimpanzee sanctuary in Cameroon."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/08/03/art.malaria.cameroon.acandnathan.jpg caption="Anderson and virus hunter Dr. Nathan Wolfe in Cameroon."]

From cattle ranching to the frontlines of research

Ahmadou Nana
Vet, Global Viral Forecasting Initiative – Cameroon

I grew up in a family of cattle ranchers. This probably explains my choice of career as a vet. The love I have for my profession has led me to work in veterinary clinics where I have worked with pets, in commercial animal production and also in the wildlife sanctuaries managed by Ape Action Africa/CWAF and Limbe Wildlife Centre where I currently work with GVFI.

The thing that worries me most since I entered the world of research is the permanent need for us to avoid zoonotic epidemics and pandemics, especially as many of our populations depend on hunting and raising of animals and don’t know the risks that they face in handling animals without precautions.

My daily routine involves collaborating with the sanctuaries who collect blood samples and feces from the animals. I then bring them to the lab for processing and testing. I also head to forest areas to collect samples from animals hunted in villages in the hope of making discoveries that could save human or animal lives. I have much hope and am convinced of what I do because one day I know I will have participated in saving many lives.

New solutions to old problems

Joseph Le Doux Diffo
Rural Site Researcher, GVFI – Cameroon

I began working on wildlife years ago when I was doing my masters at the University of Yaounde in Cameroon in 1999.

I did research on the intestinal parasites of wild and pet monkeys of Cameroon and identified numerous parasites apparently similar to those found in humans. I also worked on reptiles, studying the fauna of Bouba Ndjida National Park in Cameroon.

After meeting Dr Nathan Wolfe from GVFI I started work on lizard malaria and this was the beginning of a long period of interesting research including a trip to the Malaria Diagnostics Centre of Excellence in Kisumu, Kenya.

Working with wildlife sanctuaries and with hunters in remote forest areas of Cameroon was the next step. Collaboration with sanctuaries includes collecting blood and feces from primates to search for malaria and viruses. I now share my working time in the field and in the lab doing sample processing and primate blood slide readings.

In Cameroon, my hope is to help communities change their habits through healthy hunting education and move them out of the risk of infection of viruses from wildlife.

As a Cameroonian who knows how people manipulate bushmeat in remote areas, I am certain our ancestors  suffered from these viruses. We still face the same problems today. Our hope is to gain enough information from these studies to prevent new infections for future generations.
Conservation and health – making the connection

Matthew LeBreton
Ecology Director, GVFI

GVFI has been working with the Cameroon government, Limbe Wildlife Sanctuary and the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund/Ape Action Africa to learn more about common diseases of wild animals and to explore the origins of human diseases.

We screen for diseases in the animal sanctuaries to help make decisions about which animals should be kept together and to help make decisions on treatment for certain diseases.

Having close to a hundred chimpanzees requires a constant veterinary presence in the sanctuaries. Much of the diagnosis and treatment of disease is done by sanctuary vets with many years of experience. However there are many new techniques that will help us explore disease and the origins of disease in these animals. As these treatments become available, we can continue to make significant breakthroughs in animal care and in knowledge of human disease.

Endangered species are particularly at risk from disease.

Just last week researchers discovered that the virus SIV (Simian immunodeficiency virus) reduces lifespan and birth rate in wild chimpanzees.

As many chimpanzee populations become reduced and fragmented due to hunting and deforestation, the role of disease caused by SIV, malaria parasites and ebola in wiping out small populations should not be neglected. These discoveries help put these problems back on the radar and bring the fields of wildlife conservation and health closer together.


[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/08/03/art.malarai.limbecentre.vets.jpg caption="Veterinarians working at the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon."]

Rescue, rehab and release – fighting the bush meant and illegal pet trade in Cameroon

Simone de Vries
Project Manager, Limbe Wildlife Centre

The Limbe Wildlife Centre (LWC) is a rescue, rehabilitation and release project situated in the South West Province of Cameroon, on the edge of the small fishing town of Limbe, within the Mount Cameroon ecosystem. This is an ecosystem that, according to some, boasts the second highest levels of biodiversity in Africa.

Forest elephant, chimpanzees, drill monkeys, red-eared guenons, and Preuss’s guenons are a few of the endangered species that can be found on the slopes of Mount Cameroon. However despite this high level of biodiversity the entire area of the Mount Cameroon ecosystem is not legally protected. And it suffers from illegal logging and high levels of poaching for the bush meat trade that is currently ravaging West and Central African rainforests.

In Cameroon the level of trade in bush meat is especially high. As more and more animals are hunted and removed from their forest homes, the state of ‘empty forest syndrome’ has been coined to describe many of its forests.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the bush meat trade does not simply enable poor local people to eat protein. Rather much of the meat is smuggled to, and sold in, large cities, such as Lagos, Yaoundé, Johannesburg and even London, as a delicacy for those wealthy enough to be able to afford it.

The bush meat trade is also linked to the illegal pet trade, whereby the infant chimpanzees, gorillas and other primate species, that are too small to have a value as a meat source are – having watched their entire families being killed for meat – sold as pets.

The LWC’s very existence is as a direct result of these illegal practices. The LWC tries to come up with solutions for what to do with the infant primates when they are lucky enough to be seized by customs, police or conservation officials. By providing a sanctuary for these individuals, with enclosures that have outdoor spaces and extensive climbing structures, the LWC is able to create family groups.

In doing so the long process of rehabilitation is begun. Our long-term goal is to make sure these animals are returned to the wild, therefore we work to make sure suitable forest homes are found. The second aim of the LWC is to use these captive animals as tools to drive conservation education programs for the local communities.

The Limbe Wildlife Centre has its own veterinary facility (vet room/ diagnostic laboratory) and employs a veterinary surgeon and a laboratory technician / vet nurse, who are both responsible for the day to day veterinary care of all the animals.

Thanks to many donations of equipment the vet facility has, in recent years, developed into one of Cameroon's finest. Currently the in-house diagnostic laboratory has the capability to perform basic haematological, parasitological and microbiological analysis, while for other analyses, such as malaria and SIV, we cooperate with the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative. This joint effort ensures that a high standard of medical care can be given to all of the animals resident at the LWC, which hopefully one day will be returned to the wild.


[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/08/03/art.vert.limbecentre.malaria.jpg width=292 height=320]

Rescuing primates in Cameroon

Babila Tafon
Manager/Vet, Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund/Ape Action Africa

I have been working with rescued wild animals in Cameroon for nine years. At Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund/Ape Action Africa we work to make sure Cameroon’s primates have a healthy future. Through our work with the government, local communities and ecological groups around the world, we hope to show people the amazing diversity of wildlife in Cameroon and explain exactly why it should be protected.

We've established a variety of programs to achieve sustainable protection for habitat and wildlife and that will promote long-term biodiversity. We focus on education, primate rescue, rehabilitation, reintroduction, and conservation breeding and we seek to introduce permanent conservation initiatives to areas with high biodiversity. Our goal is to create, through the release of wild-born captive primates, a viable self-sustaining population of primates.

While such a program is challenging, through our work with GVFI, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), Bristol Zoo Gardens (United Kingdom) and Givskud Zoo (Denmark), we are making progress to help these important animals.

There are few people with similar experience and such extensive practical knowledge of veterinary care for rescued wild primates in central Africa.

Program Note: To learn more about Malaria and how to help people vulnerable or infected by the virus, visit Impact your World. Impact Your World.

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Michael Warren

    Here is a flip side to this story. I have G6PD Deficiency, which is a natural immunity to malaria. If I take certain (very popular) over the counter medication, I can develop: anemia, diabetes, or leukemia due to this deficiency. Only reason I know about my condition is because I’m at a higher level. I become sick right away and can be treated. My fear is a lot of people who’s genes originate from places where malaria is rampant, aren’t aware because they have a lower level of this deficiency. They would not know about it because they would not immediately get sick, but constant use of things they may be allergic to will add up overtime. People aren’t automatically tested for this. Every doctor I had in my life never knew about this off the top of their head, because there’s not enough research on this.

    If my theory is correct, the same medication that can potentially cause me those conditions (anemia, diabetes or leukemia), could be killing millions of people with those same diseases now. There’s a scientific reason behind why Africa Americans die from diabetes the most, and I think this is the biggest part of it….Unawareness and/or Negligence of this condition.

    August 3, 2009 at 11:46 pm |
  2. Sabrina In Los Angeles

    In Judaism, it says specifically not to touch "unclean" animals...those are animals that are not kosher.

    Could this be the reason for that notation?

    August 3, 2009 at 11:08 pm |
  3. Sabrina In Los Angeles

    So is it education that is needed to slow or stop the transmission or is it providing other lively-hood for them the answer?

    August 3, 2009 at 11:07 pm |
  4. David Wasanyi

    Did Malaria orignate from Africa or Asia?
    One of the reasons why Europeans were sucessful in constructing East-african Railway line was, the came with asians, some of whom were Malaria carriers . Malaria was then passed off to mosquitos which passed it on to the natives.
    Malaria a newly introduce disease at that time, scared the natives off of their lands thus giving way to the construction of the East-African railway line.
    On the statement made today by Dr Wolfe Nathan, I don't know whether the error was intentional or He really doesn't know the difference between a virus and a Protozoa. Malaria is cause by Protozoa not Viruses. protozoas are bigger than Viruses and Bacteria.
    Can Dr wolfe correct this error please!

    August 3, 2009 at 10:58 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    A cure for this disease would be wonderful and I hope the work these people are doing help lead to that soon. So many of the diseases that we call tropical diseases now may become commonplace in our latitudes as the climate warms and the migration of nature begins its expected northward shift.

    August 3, 2009 at 8:36 pm |
  6. Leslie Stokes

    I hope this will lead to an end to the debilitating sickness. I also hope that the governments will not get in the way of the distribution of a cure should we ever get one.

    August 3, 2009 at 7:02 pm |