Seven years ago, a respiratory virus swept through the 56 chimpanzees in the Kanyawara community at Kibale National Park in Uganda, where researchers have studied chimp behavior and society for 33 years. More than 40 apes were sickened; five died. “Chimpanzees looked like limp dolls on the forest floor,” coughing and sneezing and absolutely miserable, recalls disease ecologist Tony Goldberg of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “It was just horrendous.”
The culprit? Rhinovirus C, a human common cold virus, which researchers found after genetically analyzing samples from a dead infant chimp. Goldberg is “100% certain” the virus came from a human—perhaps a tourist, researcher, worker, or villager.