This has been a sad, long weekend for all of us at Tacugama and it’s looking very much that EMCV is the cause. Just as we are working hard to get all the chimps vaccinated against EMCV, the virus has struck again causing the death of two of our chimpanzees and leaving a third one ill. We already have Cheetah battling to recover from the infection that struck her almost a month ago. As you can imagine it is so upsetting and frustrating as we currently have a team working hard at camp to vaccinate all of the chimps against this virus but we had not yet reached those who succumbed in the last few days.
It was last Wednesday that the care staff raised the alarm for Marcel and Kate, both in Joke and Mama Lucy’s group. They came into the night dens looking very weak and disoriented, much the same as Cheetah earlier in the month. We spent an anxious night monitoring them – there are no real remedies available – and were pleased with how they appeared a little stronger the next morning. Mid afternoon on Thursday disaster struck as they both started vomiting and deteriorated rapidly. The team working on the vaccinations were available to take the best possible care but despite this poor Kate quickly passed away with nothing that we could do to save her. Marcel fortunately stabilised and so far does not seem to have been as badly affected as Cheetah.
On Friday the vaccination team worked hard, making good progress through our juvenile groups. As they prepared to start work early on Saturday, Moses raised the alarm from Philip’s group, poor Boyze was found dead in his night den. He had passed away maybe half an hour earlier. As you can imagine, we were all devastated.
So little really is known about EMCV, its transmission and treatment. It can seemingly affect different animal species (it often proves lethal in chimpanzees, bonobos, elephants and pigs) but it seems not to affect humans. It is understood to be transmitted by rats. Our vaccines have been kindly produced and donated by Taronga Zoo in Australia, who have also been affected. The Max Planck team supporting the vaccination programme will take tissue samples back to Germany and hopefully they will help improve knowledge and treatment for the virus, but this will take time.
As we continue to work hard to protect all of our chimpanzees here we say a sad and unexpected farewell to two of our family. Regular readers of our blog will have learned about Boyze as we worked to integrate him into Phillip’s group last year where he became an important ally to Phillip’s leadership of the group.
Kate was Dr Rosa’s first patient when our resident volunteer vet arrived at Tacugama over four years ago. Kate arrived at Tacugama in 2004 as a three year old having been confiscated as a pet in Bo, in the south of Sierra Leone. Rosa writes: “Kate was a sweet heart. We became best pals whilst she was in quarantine. She had a widespread skin infection and I had to treat her daily for several weeks….I used to call her Lady Kate. She would hug me through the grills and give me long groomings. What she loved the most were zips… my hip pack was a hit whenever she had a chance to play with it as it has many zips. Bobbie was her best friend, they were similar ages and both very friendly. We suspect Bobbie got sick with EMCV two years ago and luckily he survived, though it has left him with a weak heart and not too strong to cope with high levels of stress. This disease is striking hard in our chimps and in us. Each loss makes me feel more frustrated and powerless…I can’t believe I won’t see Kate anymore and I am missing her already. I will always keep Lady near my heart.