Odzala-Ndoki National Park
Principal researcher: José Domingo Rodríguez Teijeiro
Institution: University of Barcelona
The knowledge that we have to date of the action of Ebola on the gorilla population indicates that the family relationship between the members of the different families (especially the male silverback) and the spatial relationship between them (common feeding places where different gorilla groups might come into contact) is fundamental for understanding the spread of the Ebola virus and of other infectious diseases. Increasingly, gorilla viewing eco-tourism is taking over as an appropriate system for the conservation of this species and its ecosystem, but for this activity to be sustainable, we need to know the degree of alteration that this might represent for the families subjected to it.
Currently, the study of stress-related hormones may help assess this impact and provide answers to what the right intensity of observation might be. Finally, we know very little (there is only one study conducted in the Odzala-Kokua National Park) about how the populations of great apes can overcome the bottlenecks imposed by an Ebola epidemic capable of killing over 95% of the population in a specific place. This project tackles all of these unknowns. In particular, the proposal is related to the study of the spatial and trophic ecology of the families of gorillas.
Through monitoring focal groups of gorillas and photographic trapping at key points where it seems that the families coincide, the aim is to record systematically their movements, trophic behaviour, preferred feeding places, species preferred for feeding, degree of coincidence in time and/or space of the different families, etc. All of this, associated with the knowledge of the family relationships of the genetic study, will enable us to assess how contagion between the species carrying the diseases occurs and their intra-specific transmission.
The aims of the project are geared directly or indirectly towards the conservation of the gorillas, on the one hand, and on the other towards an improved understanding of the dynamics of the Ebola virus and its effects on the population of large primates. The study zone (Odzala-Lossi-Pikaounda-Ngombe-Ntokou) has recently been declared as a priority zone for the plains gorilla in Central Africa, for which reason it is a priority to obtain data about the density of the population in this area, its distribution and its relationship with the trophic and ecological aspects of the species. The knowledge of the common feeding places where different groups of gorillas might come into contact with each other, their genetic relationship and the knowledge of the group movement and formation patterns is vital for understanding the spread of the Ebola virus and other infectious diseases.