Study finds parasite in feces of monkeys

By Andy Seifert

A University researcher has found an abundance of new information in a most unlikely source: monkey dung.

Thomas Gillespie, professor of pathobiology, and other researchers studied the fecal matter of the red colobus monkey, an endangered species native to Uganda. Their research concluded that deforestation of Uganda’s forests best explained the rise of parasite infections in monkeys.

For two years, Gillespie and other researchers studied 536 samples of fecal matter from the monkeys to determine the levels of nematodes, a parasite that can cause gastrointestinal problems.

They then compared the nematode levels with degradation levels, measured by stump density, and found greater risk of infection in areas with a higher level of stump density.

The researchers calculated stump density by observing the number of tree stumps in the area.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Gillespie also said that the findings could impact how we look at the health of natural wildlife.

“(Using) this knowledge will improve evaluation of ecosystem health and wildlife conservation in relation to the risks and benefits of various extractive and management activities,” he said.

The study focused on the red colobus monkey because of its endangered status and because the ape was doing especially poorly in habitats disturbed by human involvement.

Gillespie and Colin Chapman, a researcher for the Wildlife Conservation Society, noticed parasitic infections for certain primates were higher in heavily logged areas.

Uriel Kitron, professor in pathobiology, explained why using the feces of an animal is useful and more convenient means to studying wildlife.

“Unless you want to trap or kill the apes, there is limited amount of information you can learn,” Kitron said. “Feces provide you with a valuable tool to study parasites that may be shared with humans.”

Kitron also said that Gillespie’s studies had major implications in conservation and public health issues.

“Many diseases are shared by humans and other animals: West Nile virus, influenza, Lyme disease, rabies, to name a few,” Kitron said. “Understanding the risk of transmission and contact between different species is of utter importance.”

Gillespie also said that when working with animals, studying the feces is simply more logical and humane than attempting to capture the animal.

“The process of trapping or darting is a stressful experience for the animal in question and can involve risks of harm or death,” Gillespie said. “This is a major consideration when working with endangered species.”