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Conservation letter

The role of monkeys, mosquitoes and humans in the occurrence of a yellow fever outbreak in a fragmented landscape in south Brazil: protecting howler monkeys is a matter of public health [ 78-89 ]

Júlio César Bicca-Marques and David Santos de Freitas

A recent (2008-2009) outbreak of sylvatic yellow fever caused the death of seven people and over 2,000 howler monkeys (black-and-gold, Alouatta caraya, and brown, A. guariba clamitans) in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, spreading panic among the population. The fear of the disease and the misinformation about its relationship with howler monkeys led inhabitants of several regions to exterminate these primates from the forests near their homes. In this paper we describe the theoretical background supporting the idea that howler monkeys play an important role in fighting yellow fever via the surveillance of virus circulation and stress that they are not responsible for the re-emergence of this African infectious disease, its transmission, or its fast spread through the highly fragmented landscape of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. We also describe how this scientific information has been used in the campaign “Protect our Guardian Angels” that was launched to inform the public and the media about the actual relationship of these regionally threatened species to the disease. The campaign is run and supported by educational, scientific, governmental (health- and environment-related) and religious institutions, and NGOs, an alliance in favor of biodiversity conservation and public health that has been effective in changing the quality of the news media, but that still requires a great effort to achieve the necessary level of population awareness.

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    English: Seven people and over 2,000 howler monkeys (Alouatta caraya and A. guariba clamitans) died in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, during a recent (2008-2009) outbreak of sylvatic yellow fever, an infectious disease caused by a mosquito-transmitted virus. These deaths spread panic among the population leading howlers to become not only victims of the disease, but also of people's misinformation. In addition to being illegal, the killing of howler monkeys further endangers these primates and puts people at greater risk. Unlike humans, howler monkeys are extremely sensitive to the yellow fever and usually die within a few days of contracting it. The death of howlers alerts local health offices to the local spread of the virus in the region enabling the implementation of local vaccination campaigns. In this paper, Bicca-Marques and Freitas describe the theoretical background that allows them to contend howler monkeys were the major victims of the outbreak and that their protection is not only a matter of biodiversity conservation, it is also a matter of public health. Finally, the authors describe the activities of an outreach campaign called “Protect our Guardian Angels”, run and supported by an alliance of educational, scientific, governmental (health- and environment-related) and religious institutions and NGOs, that aimed at informing the public and the media about the actual relationship of these regionally threatened monkey species to the yellow fever.

    Español: Bicca-Marques y colaboradores documentan el impacto de un episodio de fiebre amarilla sobre la conservación del mono aullador en el estado Rio Grande do Soul. Dicho episodio ocurrió en 2009-2009, causando la muerte de siete personas y de cerca de 2,000 monos aulladores. Los autores reportan que el temor a la enfermedad acoplado a información equivocada acerca de la relación entre la enfermedad y los monos, causó que estos últimos fueran exterminados por la gente en los bosques cercanos a sus casas. Con la meta de atenuar esta reacción, los autores desarrollaron una campaña dirigida a informar al público. El eje principal de la campaña fue que los monos no transmiten la enfermedad - si no más bien es el mosquito - y que de hecho juegan un papel importante en la lucha contra la fiebre amarilla, al actuar como centinelas de esta enfermedad infecciosa. La campaña, denominada ´Protege nuestros ángeles guardianes´ informa al público sobre el valor para la salud pública que resulta de la conservación de los monos aulladores. Esta, los autores reportan, ha logrado cambiar la actitud de la gente hacia los monos.
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