Protecting the Health of Wild Primates

The risk of disease transmission between humans and nonhuman primates has been well known for some time now. This risk has shaped routine procedures in captive primate facilities; all who gain close proximity to primates in laboratories and zoos are required to follow fairly strict procedures to assure the health of their subjects (as well as themselves). In the wild, similar precautions are only just now becoming recognized as an important aspect of primate conservation. This topic was addressed in May during an international conference sponsored by the Brookfield Zoo, entitled "The Apes: Challenges for the 21st Century." A symposium, "Protecting Ape Health in the Wild," brought together field primatologists and veterinarians to discuss several health aspects of ape field research and tourism. After the session, a Working Group was formed to discuss this topic and develop a list of recommendations and action plans to increase awareness and decrease our health risk to primates in the wild. One of the Working Group's recommendations was that professional societies should develop policy statements encouraging members to incorporate improved health and sanitation standards in primate field research. Several members of the Working Group, joined by additional experts in the field, prepared a draft statement and presented it to the Conservation Committee of the American Society of Primatologists. The Committee approved a revised version at its annual meeting in Boulder (June) and forwarded it to the Board of Directors with a recommendation that the Statement be accepted. We are happy to announce that on July 11, 2000, the ASP Board of Directors approved a slightly modified version provided below.

ASP Policy Statement of Protection of Primate Health in the Wild

WHEREAS many of our primate subjects are already being negatively impacted by human activities that result in destruction of their habitat and fragmentation of their populations; and

WHEREAS the study of primates often involves the close proximity of the subjects, the research workers and their guides; and

WHEREAS very little information is available on the presence of or exposure to infectious disease in wild primate populations; and

WHEREAS evidence suggests that many primate species are susceptible to many of the pathogenic infections that afflict humans and that the transmission of infection can occur in both directions;


  • THAT field research workers consult with veterinary and medical experts to develop health and sanitation standards specific to the research site.

  • THAT field researchers observe these prescribed health and sanitation standards throughout their research and that these standards be considered in all research proposals;

  • THAT the health and sanitation standards apply equally to local staff and volunteers employed by the research worker and that the observance of these standards is an ethical obligation;

  • THAT experts in primate handling and anesthesia be involved in training researchers and staff in proper handling or anesthesia techniques if the experts are not actually present in the field;

  • THAT efforts are made to maximize the knowledge gained during primate research by consulting or collaborating with experts in other disciplines to properly obtain data or samples that may help with understanding primate diseases;

  • THAT field primatologists, assisted by veterinary and medical advisors, initiate and develop occupational health programs for employees and their family members living in or near the study site. This should include consideration for sanitary and health protocols, relevant infectious disease screening, immunization, and/or quarantine periods as appropriate, in accordance with current professional recommendations.



Primary advisors who helped develop this Policy Statement for ASP:

Chairperson/Organizer: Janette Wallis, Ph.D. - U of Okla Health Sciences Center (Chimpanzee field work)

Michael Woodford, DVM - Chairman, Veterinary Specialist Group, IUCN (Various species field work)

William (Billy) Karesh, DVM -Head of Field Veterinary Program, Wildlife Conservation Society (orangutan, gorilla, mandrill field work)

Lori Sheeran, Ph.D. - Cal. State, Fullerton (Gibbon field work & teaches a course on field health prep at Cal State)

Christopher Whittier, DVM, PhD-candidate (NC State) (Chimp field experience)

Felicia Nutter, DVM, PhD-Candidate (NC State) (Chimp field experience)

Sylvia Taylor, DVM - USDA (Broad-scale captive primate experience)

Plus valuable additional input from the ASP Conservation Committee