The human tragedy caused by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been well documented.

More than 8,600 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been killed by the highly infectious virus, and many more have been infected.

It’s the worst Ebola outbreak in history and it’s far from over.

But humans are not the only victims of this horrible disease, which is spread through contact with the blood, sweat and other bodily fluids of an infected person.

Since the 1990s, Ebola has devastated the great ape population in Africa. It is estimated that one-third of the world’s gorillas and chimpanzees have been lost to the virus, which was discovered in 1976.

The WWF estimates there are around 100,000 gorillas left in the wild, while there are between 150,000 and 250,000 chimpanzees.

Scientists say Ebola has now joined poaching and deforestation as a “major threat to African apes” and it has been confirmed as one of the “important sources of mortality in wild gorillas and chimpanzees.”

And while vaccination against the disease has proven to be safe in the laboratory, it hasn’t been deployed in the wild.

There have been a number of particularly devastating outbreaks in recent decades. In 2002 and 2003, for example, an outbreak of the Zaire strain of Ebola in the Lossi Sanctuary in northwestern Republic of Congo killed around 5,000 gorillas, or 90% of the population.

An Ebola outbreak in the chimpanzee population of the Tai National Park in the Cote d’Ivoire in the early 1990s also resulted in significant loss of life.

In the mid-90s more than 90% of the ape population in Gabon’s Minkebe National Park also perished during an outbreak of the disease.

Populations don’t bounce back quickly, taking several generations to recover from a single outbreak.

“While the Ebola virus alone does not threaten apes and chimpanzees with extinction, this epidemic has reduced the population to a point where it can no longer sustain itself in the face of poaching and other pressures,” according to a report on AnimalResearch.Info.

The full impact on the great ape population from the current Ebola outbreak isn’t yet known but, if history is any guide, we should probably fear the worst.

By Allison Jackson, GlobalPost
This article is syndicated from GlobalPost.