A team of scientists from Florida may have cracked the mystery of how African monkeys manage to contract viruses that are more commonly associated with bats.
In a study featured in the journal EcoHealth, researchers from the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) observed the activity of guenons, or Cercopithecus monkeys, in the wilderness of the Gombe National Park in Tanzania.
Their goal was to find out how these monkeys are able to contract certain viruses, such as Marburg, Henipa and Ebola, which are typically carried by bats.
While Cercopithecus monkeys are known to eat birds, mice and lizards on a few occasions, they mostly consume fruits and other plants. This is why some scientists believed that the monkeys could have gotten the viruses after eating fruits or flowers that contained contaminated saliva from infected bats.
However, the recent study suggests that guenons could have contracted the microbes directly from carrier bats after the researchers saw that some monkeys were fond of capturing and eating the flying mammals.
Kate Detwiler, an anthropology professor at FAU and one of the authors of the study, said that this behavior was seen in Cercopithecus monkeys living in Kenya's Kakamega Forest. The actions of the guenons that the researchers observed along with the persistence at which the monkeys seem to capture prey suggest that bats are a favorite food of the primates.
The researchers said the guenons capture bats not by snatching them in midair but rather they wait for the flying mammals to roost in their nests and grab them while they are resting or asleep.
This behavior was seen in Cercopithecus monkeys living in areas that were either modified or near human developments such as forest edges, plantation forests, or fragmented forests.
"While effects of habitat change on bats are unknown and merit further study, our observations suggest that Cercopithecus monkeys preying on bats may be habitat specific, and possibly affected by anthropogenic habitat changes," lead author Elizabeth Tapanes pointed out.
With 60 percent of infectious diseases originating in animals, it is important for scientists to determine specific transmission routes in the animal kingdom. This would allow them to find out where a disease outbreak could occur and develop ways on how to prevent its transmission to humans.