Wildlife Health

From poaching and bushmeat consumption to scientific research in the forest and the collection of non-timber resources, human-wildlife interactions are increasingly common in the Congo Basin forest and pose certain health risks to both animals and humans. The Park works with communities, veterinarians and researchers to limit the risk of pathogen transmission, to contribute to a better understanding of zoonotic diseases, and to care for animals seized from trafficking. This cross-cutting approach to human, wildlife, and environmental health, called "One Health," is an important part of both wildlife conservation and public health.

Animals seized from poachers by law enforcement in northern Congo are sent to our rehabilitation center at the Park's headquarters in Bomassa. The animals are tested before receiving regular treatment and health checks while they recover, at which point they are released. The rehabilitation center can accommodate a wide range of species such as pangolins, small monkeys, and big birds such as owls and raptors.

The most common residents of the rehabilitation center are the African grey parrots, which are unfortunately still very often trafficked alive as they feed the pet trade. The capture of these social and intelligent birds is particularly harmful, as reintegration of individuals back into a new group of parrots in the wild is difficult.

A team of veterinarians also monitors the health of apes habituated to the human presence at the Park's research sites.

Throughout northern Congo, covering nearly 50,000 square kilometers, our wildlife health team, in partnership with the Congolese Ministry of Health, has educated 10,000 hunters and thousands of women and children about the importance of not touching wild animals found dead in the forest.

They are also asked to call our team who can be dispatched to their village to test the carcass for potential zoonotic diseases (a disease that can be transmitted between humans and animals), such as Ebola. In the case of a spillover event from animals to humans, this early warning system would facilitate appropriate public health measures to be taken as quickly as possible. The team has secure sampling protocols in place, and there are nearly 50 people trained in secure carcass sampling techniques, allowing for rapid deployment of a sampling team.

Local diagnostic capabilities have also been improved, which have reduced analysis times from several weeks to days. Thanks to the use of the Biomeme thermocycler, diagnosis of zoonotic diseases can now be made in the field in a few hours. Since 2008, over 90 wildlife carcasses have been tested. All have tested negative for the Ebola virus.

Since 2012, our team has tested over 1,200 bats across Congo for pathogens with zoonotic potential. Conducted in collaboration with the U.S. National Institute for Health (NIH), this research effort focuses on zoonotic virus families of which bats may be natural reservoirs; Coronaviridae, Filoviridae and Paramyxoviridae.

In 2023, this effort was further expanded, with the first collection of bat samples in the Brazzaville and Ouesso area, and the start of rodent sampling work in the north of the country. In addition, through a new partnership with the Congolese Foundation for Medical Research (FCRM), blood samples were also safely collected from about 100 adults associated with the bat trade to assess potential disease exposure.

These combined long-term research efforts help to better understand, and therefore better anticipate and respond to zoonotic outbreaks.