Last month I wrote about Conservation Through Public Health, a Ugandan non-profit organization that works to decrease the spread of disease between humans and endangered mountain gorillas. While much of its work focuses on preventing human disease outbreaks that could spread to gorillas, the organization also provides life-saving veterinary treatment when infectious diseases strike the mountain gorillas directly — staving off epidemics that could wipe out their population.
Some conservationists would like to go a step further by using vaccines to protect endangered apes. In his Not Exactly Rocket Science blog for National Geographic, science writer Ed Yong recently wrote about a group of University of Cambridge scientists working to develop a chimp vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus. Scientists are also working to develop vaccines to protect chimpanzees from human respiratory syncytial virus (an illness that is usually harmless in humans but can be deadly in chimps) and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV, which causes a syndrome similar to AIDS in chimps).
But not everyone is in favor of this approach. The vaccines have to be tested on captive chimps first, which raises its own ethical issues. Yong outlines the arguments on both sides in his excellent blog post.
What do you think? How can we best protect the future of our ape cousins?