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Over the past decades, economic, political and social forces in the developing world have brought about deforestation on a massive scale, depleting the remaining natural habitats of wild nonhuman primates (NHPs). Squeezed into ever smaller domains surrounded by human society, NHPs are coming into increasingly regular contact with humans. Poaching and habitat destruction are recognised dangers to NHP populations in the wild. In contrast, the potentially devastating threat posed by human-to-NHP disease transmission in wild NHP populations is under-appreciated and not well studied (see also Chapter 8). We believe that effective programmes for the conservation of wild NHP populations must acknowledge the interrelation of habitat destruction, bushmeat hunting and human-to-NHP disease transmission.
Pathogens endemic to humans have the capacity to devastate NHP populations. This phenomenon has been observed repeatedly in laboratory settings, where epidemics of endemic human diseases such as influenza, tuberculosis, chicken pox and measles can cause mortality rates greater than 90% among NHPs, including animals newly captured from the wild (Padovan & Cantrell, 1986; Mansfield & King, 1998). If endemic human pathogens can cause such profound destruction among captive NHPs, it follows that we should explore the threat that human contact poses to wild NHPs.
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