Recent outbreaks of deadly Ebola among people in Africa also killed thousands of gorillas, animals already threatened by hunting, a new study reported Friday.
Outbreaks in Congo and Gabon in 2002 and 2003 killed as many as 5,500 gorillas, a research team led by Magdalena Bermejo of the University of Barcelona in Spain reported in the journal Science.
"Add commercial hunting to the mix, and we have a recipe for rapid ecological extinction," the researchers wrote. "Ape species that were abundant and widely distributed a decade ago are rapidly being reduced to a tiny remnant population."
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is marked by aches, sore throat and weakness, followed by diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. Many suffer internal and external bleeding.
The researchers began studying gorillas in 1995 and by 2001 were focusing on 143 animals. In 2002, Ebola flared in the region, killing dozens of people and 130 of the gorillas in the study. The researchers turned their attention to a group of 95 gorillas, of which a 2003 outbreak killed 91.