© CI/Photo by Russell A. Mittermeier
Humans and non-human primates are all susceptible to disease and illness. And because they are evolutionarily related to humans, non-human primates have a similar physiology and can exchange diseases with humans.
Today, tourism and human expansion expose non-human primates to people and the diseases they carry. As a result, primate populations prone to human encounters are at risk of contracting potentially fatal human diseases for which apes and monkeys have no defense systems – not to mention the risks humans take of contracting ape and monkey diseases.
So while natural diseases have always threatened primate populations, recent exposure to diseases traditionally unique to humans pose a new threat to apes and monkeys.
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One of the most well-known documented cases of a primate population contracting a "human illness" was in 1966 when Jane Goodall sadly witnessed many of the chimpanzees she was studying at Gombe, as well as local humans, become plagued with polio. This epidemic, likely introduced by humans, is believed to be responsible for the death or disappearance of 10 chimps and the crippling of five others within Goodall's study group.
Such tragic cases could increase as humans continue to encroach on primate habitat.
READ MORE: Primates are also threatened by hunting, habitat loss and capture.