Diseases and parasites

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020/21 and the Ebola outbreaks over the last years remind us poignantly about the impact of disease on human health and livelihoods. These diseases were triggered by spill-over events of pathogens from wildlife to humans. But the same issue arises when pathogens cross species boundaries between wildlife species. Especially, when cross-over into threatened species occur, it can become a serious conservation issue as these threatened species are typically small and immunological naive. For example, many species of frogs are thought to have become recently extinct because of the parasitic fungal disease, chytridiomycosis.

We have investigated the impact of some microparasites (which include viruses, bacteria, fungi, and most protozoa, such as malaria) and macroparasites (mostly parasitic worms and parasitic arthropods such as mites) on humans and wildlife.


The COVID-19 pandemic endangers Africa’s indigenous Pygmy People

COVID-19 has  apparently had an overall surprisingly low prevalence and mortality in Africa. In a FORUM contribution to EcoHealth, the journal of the EcoHealth Alliance, we argue that Pygmy communities may be silently ravaged by the disease yet there is a lack of policies or initiatives to monitor their health systematically throughout the Congo Basin. Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on these forest-dependent peoples has never been more important to develop ways of helping them.

First evidence of parasitic infections in two threatened fox species in Chile

We report high infection rates (75%) of an ear mite parasite in two distant insular endangered fox populations in Chile: in the Darwin’s fox from Chiloé Island, and the Fuegian culpeo fox in Tierra del Fuego.  Our findings are a typical example of spill-over events of parasites from widespread species (here: domestic and wild cats and dogs) into small, threatened species, with - in this case - possible, but unknown negative effects on the threatened species. In another study, we confirm the presence of a dog biting louse, Trichodectes canis , in the Darwin’s fox.

Ebola outbreak affects wild meat trade in West Africa

Ebola virus disease (EVD), is a rare but severe, often fatal illness in humans. Transmission can occur between humans, but the origin is from wildlife and transmission has been linked with wild meat. We investigated human attitudes of customers in Nigerian wild meat markets to disease risk and how EVD impacted the sale of  wild meat. We show that purchasing behaviour of consumers changed and education campaigns were effective in reducing the trade of bats and primates, animal groups likely to be implicated in the transmission of Ebola.

Canine distemper epidemic in black-backed jackals in Namibia

Canine distemper virus (CDV) is highly contagious virus and has been responsible for severe population declines in both terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. Of particular concern are spill-over events of CDV from domestic dogs to threatened populations because such events have led to mass mortalities in lions and pinniped, for example. We investigated the origin of a CDV epidemic in black-backed jackals in Namibia.