The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Chimpanzees and malaria parasites: behavioral strategies to limit the infection


1Ecoanthropology and Ethnobiology-UMR7206, Museum national d’histoire naturelle, 2UPMC/UMRS945, Groupe hospitalier Pitié Salpêtrière

Thursday 11:00-11:15, Ballroom A Add to calendar

Mixed species malaria infections occur in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) sampled randomly in Kibale National Park, Uganda. Recently the molecular screening of chimpanzee feces also revealed infection with Plasmodium falciparum, the species highly lethal for human beings occurs. However, the long term health monitoring conducted on these habituated chimpanzees shows that the malaria infection is unlikely to be associated with severe clinical signs. We explored the hypothesis that the infection is controlled in chimpanzees. We combined chimpanzee health and behavioral monitoring to phytochemistry and mosquito survey. First, we observed that chimpanzees decrease the risk of being bitten my mosquitoes by avoiding sites where the night-biting anopheline mosquitoes are abundant. The choice of elevated areas to build their night nest thus reduces the risk of acquiring malaria. Second, we have also observed these apes consuming plant parts of low nutritional value (more than ten different plant species), which contain compounds with anti-malarial properties. In addition, shortly after the consumption of certain plant parts, chimpanzees ingest red soil. The association of these two natural products increases the biological activities against the malaria parasite. This evidence leads us to propose that preventive and curative behaviors may contribute to limit the effects of the parasite infection in the chimpanzee. These results point out the importance of combining different fields of research to better understand the relationships between chimpanzees, plants and pathogens and to preserve this knowledge for the well-being of great apes, but also for public health including traditional medicine.

Fundings have been provided by the Museum national d'histoire naturelle, ANR SAFAPE, Association pour la Conservation des Grands Singes, ATM "Résilience" du MNHN.

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