A new bacterium caused the mysterious deaths of chimpanzees in Sierra Leone’s Tacugama sanctuary, scientists say. New research also shows that the fatal illness may also pose a potential risk to humans considering chimpanzees and humans share 98 per cent of genetic makeup.
Identified as an epizootic neurologic and gastroenteric syndrome or ENGS, the unknown illness caused neurological problems, vomiting and diarrhoea among chimpanzees. Since 2005, ENGS killed 56 Western chimpanzees at the Tacugama sanctuary despite medical treatment. A team of international researchers studied the ENGS and found that it was associated with the Sarcina infection. In a study published in Nature Journal, the team said, “Our results suggest that a heretofore unrecognized complex of related sarcinae likely exists, some of which may be highly virulent.” According to a 2013 publication, the Sarcina bacterium was “implicated in the development of gastric ulcers, emphysematous gastritis and gastric perforation”.
In the case of emphysematous gastritis, which is characterised by the presence of gas in the wall of the stomach, the bacterium had the potential to be fatal. Even in the case of the Western chimpanzees in Sierra Leone, scientists had noted the primates walking around with bloated stomaches prior to their deaths.