In a finding that surprised experts, leprosy has been identified in wild chimpanzees for the first time, according to a new study.
Cases of leprosy in chimpanzees have been found in Guinea-Bissau and Côte d’Ivoire, making this the first time leprosy has been found in any non-human species in Africa, researchers said in a study published Wednesday.
Leprosy, also known as leprosy, is an infectious disease that can seriously damage the nerves, skin and respiratory tract of humans. It can lead to the development of lesions and nodules, as well as loss of sensation in the limbs and blindness.
Scientists used camera traps to study the behavior of chimpanzees between 2015 and 2019. Upon examining the images, the researchers found two males and two females with “serious leprosy-like lesions,” according to the researchers’ text. The symptoms – similar to those experienced by humans – progressed over time.
“When I first saw images of a chimpanzee with nodules and lesions on the face, I realized it was leprosy because it looked a lot like leprosy in humans,” Kimberley Hockings told CNN on Thursday, senior lecturer in conservation science at the University of Exeter, UK. She is the author of the study along with other researchers.
Until now, it is not known exactly how chimpanzees became infected, but it is believed to have occurred as a result of exposure to humans or “other unknown environmental sources,” the study said.
Leprosy has been seen in wild animals before, such as red squirrels in the UK and armadillos in the Americas, but it was quite shocking to see leprosy “suddenly pop up in chimpanzees because they are so researched,” noted Hockings.
She said there will be more research on how wild chimpanzees came into contact with the disease and what that means for a species that is already at risk from factors such as hunting and habitat loss.
Hockings added that the discovery concerns conservation efforts and researchers.
As for the treatment of leprosy in wild chimpanzees, this can be a challenge.
“The treatment of leprosy in humans is relatively simple, especially if it is diagnosed early,” said Hockings.
“But for animals that are not used to humans, like these specific populations, it is very difficult to administer antibiotics. There are restrictions for the treatment of leprosy in animals and we have to consider the ethical implications”, says the research when referring to the difficulties of administering medicines in wild species.
Hockings said he will incorporate the finding into broader research that revolves around interactions between humans and great apes, as humans are traditionally considered the main host of leprosy – and is now suddenly appearing in wild chimpanzees.
The research was published in the journal Nature.
(Translated text. Read the original here.)