Scientists from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana have found that people employed in chimpanzee-focused research and tourism in a park in western Uganda are exchanging gastrointestinal bacteria – specifically Escherichia coli – with local chimpanzee populations. And some of the E. coli strains migrating to chimps are resistant to antibiotics used by humans in Uganda.
Their study will appear in the April 2007 issue of Biological Conservation and is available now on the journalís Web site.
Other studies have found bacterial exchanges between humans and non-human primates – particularly in areas where the animals are known to frequent garbage piles near human settlements. But this is the first study to document the exchange of E. coli between humans and chimps in a protected wildlife area. It is also the first to find antibiotic-resistant strains in chimpanzees in Africa.
The research team, which included researchers from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and McGill University in Montreal, examined two of 10 known communities of chimpanzees living in Kibale National Park, Uganda. One of the two chimp groups has been the focus of two decades of research by international teams of scientists. The other is regularly visited by employees of a local tourism venture.