Published: Tuesday 31 December 1996

Scientists from different parts of the world are camping at the Tai forest in western Ivory Coast to track down the source of the ebola virus. The research team has set up a laboratory each in the forest and the capital Abidjan to identify ebola antibodies in captured forest animals. So far, the search for the natural host - the plant or animal which harbours the virus when it is not affecting humans or other primates - has not led to the culprit. The research is being conducted here as there had been a few ebola outbreaks in the country and it has a well-researched population of primates.

The ebola virus has been found to kill chimpanzees in the Tal forest. These chimps had fed on the highly- decomposed carcass of a red colobus monkey. Scientists are now studying the red colobus and tropical bats which have been found to carry the virus without getting affected. The ebola tends to break out at the end of rainy season in November. During rains, the colobus monkeys share tree hollows with bats and other creatures. A change in their diet also makes them susceptible to the virus during this season.

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