Studies on the pathology of the gorilla: formation of a study group




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from: Professor JE Cooper DTVM, FRCPath, FIBIOL, FRCVS

email: ngagi2@gmail.com



Department of Veterinary Medicine,

University of Cambridge,

Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ES, UK






STUDIES ON THE PATHOLOGY OF THE GORILLA: FORMATION OF A STUDY GROUP
Background
The skeletal remains of great apes have attracted growing attention in recent years and, in addition to providing data on the pathology of those species of primate (Lovell, 1990a, b), are helping medical scientists to under­stand the evolution and pathogenesis of certain human diseases (Rothschild and Woods, 1992).
In 1994, a study of skeletal and dental pathology of the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei) started in the United Kingdom in collaboration with Makerere University, Uganda, the National Museums of Kenya and the Royal College of Surgeons of England (Cooper and Cooper, 2007, 2008). Over the subsequent 15 years this led to the gross examination of material in museums and collections in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda.
Findings in mountain gorilla bones to date have included a range of traumatic and chronic inflammatory lesions and possible metabolic and developmental abnormalities. Dental investigations have confirmed ‘physiological’ changes, such as the presence of black calculus (a particular feature of G beringei), and various pathological lesions, including tooth root and interdontal abscesses, fractured teeth and alveolar resorption. Skeletal material from collections in Europe and Africa shows similar pathology to that reported for mountain gorillas by Lovell (1990a) in her review of G beringei skeletons housed in the USA. However, there are some differences and additional findings that need to be verified and investigated. The sample size remains relatively small.
Skeletons and other material, such as skins, from gorillas offer an opportunity for retrospective research on the pathology and diseases of these important, threatened, primates. Many of the specimens that are now available for investigation are from animals that died, or were killed, decades ago and they therefore provide valuable reference (‘baseline’) data, as well as affording possibilities for DNA and other molecular studies.
The needs
Notwithstanding the achievements of the project above to date, four important requirements are to:


  1. extend this research into studies on skeletal and other material that has been stored, buried or hidden in the range states of the mountain gorilla – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda

  2. involve more fully colleagues from Africa, especially veterinarians, primatologists, comparative pathologists and osteologists

  3. start broadening the studies to the related - at present more widespread - lowland gorilla (G.gorilla)

  4. encourage the retention of skeletal and other tissue from G. beringei (and G. gorilla) within the species’ range states or in adjacent African countries where access can be readily provided to local students and researchers as well as to those from overseas. This would be in keeping with Article 1 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) which deals with the fair and equitable sharing of genetic resources.


Formation of a Study Group

As a step towards meeting the goals above, we are proposing the formation of a Study Group of people who either live in Africa or who spend a significant part of their time there, who have an interest in the pathology of gorillas and who would like to contribute to a better understanding of the factors affecting the health and welfare of these species. Links will also be forged with other interested parties. This Group is provisionally being called the “Gorilla Pathology Study Group” (GPSG) and a logo has been designed for it by Sally Dowsett, a long-term British supporter of this and other projects in Africa. The logo will appear on all literature concerning the Group.


At the moment, for practical reasons, the main focus of the GPSG’s work is in East and Central Africa and there relates to the mountain gorilla. The Group’s activities are initially being coordinated by a small team, the members of which are in regular personal and email contact - Professor John E. Cooper (UK/Kenya), Mr Mwebi Ogeto (National Museums of Kenya) and Dr Lee Koma (Makerere University, Uganda – also currently at UWI). In due course it is hoped to put the Group’s studies on a more formal and organised basis and to involve a wider range of people and countries.

Proposed programme of work for the Group
The initial role of the GPSG, up to December 2009, will be to establish and strengthen contact between those in East and Central Africa who already have an interest in the pathology of gorillas or would like to gain experience and confidence in this discipline. Such contact, primarily by email, will lead to the exchange of information about post-mortem and clinical pathology findings and should facilitate the proper and systematic collation of data. This information can then be made available to those elsewhere, especially in the field, who need to apply it to the promotion of the health, welfare and conservation of free-living gorillas.
In 2010 it is hoped that the GPSG will organise a Workshop. This will be held in East or Central Africa and its theme will be "Primate Pathology", with particular, but not exclusive, reference to the health of free-living animals. It will provide opportunities for members of the GPSG to meet, to confer and to plan the future aims and directions of the Group. Others with an interest in the subject will also be invited to attend the Workshop.
Anyone who is interested in the proposed GPSG and who thinks s/he might be eligible to become a member or to be kept in touch with developments should contact a coordinator at one of the Group’s addresses:
Professor John E Cooper, School of Veterinary Medicine, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0ES, UK

GPSG email address: ngagi2@gmail.com

Dr. Lee Koma, P.O. Box 16638, Kampala, Uganda email address; lee_koma@yahoo.com

Mr Ogeto Mwebi, Head of Osteology Section, National Museums of Kenya, P.O. Box 40658, 00100

Nairobi, Kenya email address: ogeto_mwebi@yahoo.com
All enquiries will be answered and an Application Form or further information will be sent to interested persons on request. Comments and suggestions are welcome and can be submitted in either English or French.
References cited above:

Cooper JE & Cooper ME (2007). Introduction to Veterinary and Comparative Forensic Medicine. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.

Cooper JE & Cooper ME (2008). Skeletal pathology of primates and other wildlife. Vet Rec 162, 63-64.

Lovell NC (1990a). Skeletal and dental pathology of free-ranging mountain gorillas. Am J Phys Anthropol 81, 399-412.

Lovell NC (1990b). Patterns of Injury and Illness in Great Apes. A Skeletal Analysis. Washington DC, London, Smithsonian Institution Press.

Rothschild BM & Woods RJ (1992). Erosive arthritis and spondyloarthropathy in Old World primates. Am J Phys Anthropol 83, 389-400.


JEC/LK/MO 7th February 2009





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