"They say 85% of statistics are made up on the spot. I think it's more like 96%." Comedienne Ellen DeGeneres's one-liner is a caveat worth applying to any extrapolations regarding either gorilla disease or gorilla numbers in war-torn Africa. The world media has hysterically latched onto a study suggesting that an Ebola outbreak in wildlife sanctuaries which straddle the border between Gabon and the Republic of Congo killed over 5,000 lowland gorillas in the period between October 2003 and January 2004. Primatologist Magdalena Bermejo and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology present evidence (Science 8 December 2006; Vol. 314 no.5805 pp.1522-1523) that the Ebola virus, which has also killed dozens of people in the same region, has attacked gorillas in the Lossi Sanctuary region in much higher numbers than previous estimates. There are two glaring problems with the extrapolations on the study: there is no accurate count of the numbers of lowland gorillas in the world, and there are many areas of the Congo interior that are completely inaccessible, whether due to location, civil strife, or a combination of both. The Max Planck study certainly has value, but it is only one board in a structure that may turn out to be a house of cards as conservation organizations and conservation-funded studies are held to a higher standard of scrutiny.
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