The Primate Centre

The Primate Centre was opened on the 49-hectare CIRMF campus in the 1980s. The Centre has become one of the most successful primate centres on the African continent by its size and diversity of the species it houses. The human and technical resources available have enabled the development of biomedical, veterinary and ethological protocols of international value. The research focuses on monkey health, first to develop control strategies within a framework of conservation, but also in the context of public health by assessing the risk of disease transmission between animals and humans.

Nearly 400 primates, most originating in Gabon (chimpanzees, gorillas, mandrills, sun-tailed guenons, white-collared mangabeys, greater spot-nosed monkeys, moustached guenons), the rest of Africa (vervets) or Asia (rhesus macaques and cynomolgus macaques) are raised at this research centre.

 Depending on their needs, the animals can be housed in three types of accommodation:

 - In individual cages in A2 or A3 high security buildings  (quarantine or short periods during biomedical protocols)

 - In fenced and netted enclosures housing up to ten individuals

 - In four enclosures covering twelve hectares of forest where the animals live in semi-liberty. This is where more than half of the primates at the Centre are housed.

The medical equipment of the Centre is comparable to that of a hospital in the sub-region (treatment room, operating room, medical imaging room) and all necessary medical and surgical care can be provided. The primates receive annual health checks and their population is controlled by a reproduction control program.

An expert staff, consisting of some twenty agents, is permanently on hand at the Centre. The primates are cared for by three Gabonese and French veterinarians, aided by two surgical assistants. A dozen animal technicians, supervised by a head technician and two assistants, monitor and feed the animals, and maintain the facilities. As part of it mission, the Centre trains young Gabonese people to be animal technicians (training periods of two to six months) as there is no national training school.

For nearly ten years, the Primate Centre has been making every effort to improve the captivity conditions for the primates. For the staff, monitoring the behaviour of the individuals has become as important as their health. Thus, group enclosures are preferred, the environment is enriched daily (food and facilities) and training sessions using positive reinforcement to encourage individual cooperation have been implemented to allow simple medical tests on non-anesthetized animals.


 

TEAM

Head of the Primate Centre / Delphine VERRIER

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (Veterinary School of Lyon, 2000), Researcher (PhD, University of Melbourne, 2007)

Veterinary assistant at the Primate Centre since 2008

Contract employee, sector expert at the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs

Member of the ethics committee for animal experimentation Ile-de-France

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Specialties: Primatology, Integrative Epidemiology, Parasitology, Ecophysiology, Endocrinology, Behavioural Ecology

Assistant Veterinary Doctor / Bartholémy Ngoubangoye

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (Inter state School of Veterinary Sciences and  Medicine in Dakar, Senegal, 2007), Master 2 Epidemiology (UCBL 1, Lyon, 2010)

Veterinary assistant at the Primate Centre since 2007

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Specialties: Primatology, Toxoplasmosis, Epidemiology


Head Animal Technician: Paul Bamba

Assistants: Joseph Akanga and Antoine Ngouma

Animal technicians: Dimitri Mboulou, Roberteau Gnala, Dieudonné Ofougou,  Dieudonné Oloussou, Rodrigue Aleki, Frédéric Loundou, Alain Nkayi, Antoine Lendoye

Animal technician responsible for maintenance: Alain-Prince Okouga

Surgical assistants: Solange Ombi and Jessica Kassassa

Secretary: Angela Mvoula

Cleaning services technician: Agathe Bilouni

Night watchman: Mahamat Youssoubomi

 

RESOURCES

The treatment room

When animals are sick or during their annual health check, they are brought into the treatment room.

The primates are always handled under general anaesthesia (chemical immobilization with ketamine) to minimize animal stress and bite risks for operators. The anaesthetic is administered remotely using blowgun delivery of darts. Once a year, each primate at the Centre has a thorough health check and receives the necessary vaccinations and contraceptive treatments. The results of the clinical observation, morphometric measurements, and haematological, parasitological and virological analyses are recorded, and constitute a valuable database and source of knowledge about each species.

In addition, since its inception, the Centre has been creating a unique serum bank of preserved specimens and tracking of individuals. Each time an animal is anesthetized, a blood sample is taken, centrifuged and stored at -80° C. This biobank allows us to perform subsequent analyses to find pathologies unknown at the time of collection, thanks to technological advances or scientific breakthroughs. Currently, over 30,000 samples are available for researchers.

 

Medical Imaging Room

The Centre has a radiology suite with an adjacent darkroom.

Radiography is mainly used in the diagnosis and treatment of fractures and dislocations. It also allows us to study bone development in great apes.

We also have a powerful ultrasound, useful both in monitoring gestation and in the exploration of abdominal disorders.

Finally the Centre has just installed a video gastroscope, for exploration (and possibly biopsy) of the stomach, rectum and colon.

The operating room

The operating room is fully equipped for all procedures: comprehensive instruments for surgery of soft tissue and bone, gas anaesthesia, monitoring during operations (blood pressure, ECG) and in intensive care, fluoroscopy, operating microscope and endoscope for specialized surgical procedures.

Surgeries performed as part of research protocols are often short (e.g. taking samples of surface lymph nodes). Outside the protocols, surgery is essentially curative (wound suturing, skin grafts for animal bites, fractures, etc.)

 

RESEARCH ACTIVITIES


Research at the Primate Centre

The Centre works with the CIRMF research units and international institutes (Pasteur Institute, CEA, INSERM, CNRS, IRD, University of Lyon, University of Limoges, Army Health Service in France, Duke University in the USA, and more). The primates, because of their phylogenetic proximity with humans, are indeed valuable models for all sorts of comparative studies (diseases and behaviours). In addition to studies of pathogens in cell cultures or laboratory animals, under certain conditions primates offer unique research subjects. For example, some of them are naturally infected with an acquired immunodeficiency virus similar to AIDS in humans, but do not develop symptoms associated with the disease. Understanding this resistance therefore has major potential for applications in human medicine. However, for environmental reasons (Washington Convention) and ethical reasons (social animals with a high cognitive level), the use of primates is highly regulated. Thus all research protocols conducted at the Centre are assessed by an Ethics Committee and an International Scientific Committee and comply with international laws on animal welfare.

Contextual and innovative research themes

Because the Primate Centre belongs to a Gabonese Institution, studies at the Centre focus on diseases that have an impact on public health in the subregion.

Studies related to public health conducted in primates can be divided into two main themes: natural infections in African primates and the development of innovative molecules.

- The study of natural infections in African primates: Located at the heart of the region where HIV, cerebral malaria and Ebola outbreaks originated, the CIRMF has an exceptional work environment. Research on SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus), STLV (Simian T-Lymphotropic Virus), Hepatitis, SFV (Simian Foamy Virus), filariasis and plasmodia has led to dozens of international publications by the CIRMF.

- The development of innovative molecules: CIRMF also invests heavily in applied research, with internationally recognized results. The main studies conducted at the Primate Centre are related to HIV (development of new therapies, microbicide research, vaccine trials), malaria (vaccine immunogenicity study), sleeping sickness (development of new therapies) and chikungunya virus (therapeutic research).

In addition, primate research specific to the Primate Centre is ongoing: ethology, communication (olfactory, visual, aural), sexual cycle, contraceptive strategies, ecophysiology, pathophysiology, etc. All these studies aim to learn more about primates and better protect them.

The Primate Centre and primate conservation

The veterinarians at the Primate Centre participate actively in the conservation of primates in Gabon. Certain primates at the Centre are included in ecotourism projects in Gabon: three lowland gorillas were sent to the Fernan-Vaz Gorilla Project in 2000 and more than sixty CIRMF mandrills were released in Lékédi Park in 2002 and 2006 (tracked using radio transmitter collars). These animals have become ambassadors for their species to the general public.

In addition, the Primate Centre works closely with the sanctuaries and the Ministry of Waters and Forests. To this end, the Centre takes in young primates orphaned by poaching and keeps them for a secure quarantine period before reintroducing them into the wild. Moreover, veterinarians provide biosecurity training throughout the year to animal technicians working in great ape sanctuaries. Finally, on a national level, veterinarians participate in the fight against poaching with agents from the Ministry of Waters and Forests both through education (providing the villages with educational packs on great apes, distributing brochures explaining hunting laws) and increased enforcement of the laws.

Feeding and Environmental Enrichment at the Primate Centre

The diet of the primates at the Centre consists mostly of bananas, which is the only fruit available year-round in large quantities. Every week they eat more than two tonnes of bananas grown in the villages, some of which are more than half a day's drive away. The bananas are transported to the Centre while still green and the Centre staff control the ripening process.

In addition, 500 to 1000 kg of other “wild” or cultured fruits and vegetables are offered each week to the primates, including papaya, amomes, apouboulous, eboris, oranges, watermelons, pineapples, local and purple eggplant, African pears, guavas, mangoes, melons, cucumbers, avocados and grapefruit. Finally, since wild chimps and mandrills also have a carnivorous diet (antelopes and colobus monkeys for chimpanzees, frogs, insects and rodents for mandrills), they receive a protein supplement composed of soybean meal and wheat flour daily. The primates are given two meals per day. Apart from these meals, the animal technicians give out peanuts, fruit-flavoured ice cubes, molasses and aframomum twigs  (Aframomum sp.) and costus twigs (Costus albus), two plants that great apes love for food and making nests.

 

THE PRIMATES AT THE PRIMATE CENTRE

ENDEMIC SPECIES IN GABON

Chimpanzees

Number of individuals at the centre: 56

Latin name: Pan troglodytes

Height: 80 cm

Weight: 35-50 kg for females, 40-60 kg for males

Habitat: primary and secondary forest, savannah, prairie and mountains up to 3,000 m altitude. From Guinea to Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Central Africa, DRC, Uganda, Tanzania.

Food: 50-75% fruits, 15-45% leaves, 1-20% flowers, 1-10% seeds and prey animals (termites, birds, colobus monkeys, antelopes, etc.) 0-5%

Sexual maturity: 11 years for females, 13 years for males

Gestation: 8 months

Birth interval: 5 years

Longevity: 45-55 years

Social structure: multi-male/multi-female groups, the females migrate, groups of 10 to 40 individuals.

Ethology: diurnal, arboreal for eating and sleeping, and terrestrial for travelling.

 

Greater spot-nosed monkeys and moustached guenons

Number of individuals at the Centre: 4, including 3 hybrid

Latin name: Cercopithecus cephus and Cercopithecus nictitans X C. cephus hybrids

Height: 43-66 cm without the tail

Weight: 4 kg for females, 6 kg for males

Habitat: primary and secondary forest from Liberia to Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria to the DRC and Angola

Food: up to 90% fruit, leaves, some insects, caterpillars, and sometimes chickens from neighbouring villages!

Sexual maturity: 4 years for females, 5-6 years for males

Birth interval: 2 years

Social Structure: 1 male for several females

Ethology: diurnal and arboreal (frequently observed at 20-30 m high)

 

Mandrills

Number of individuals at the Centre: about 200

Latin Name: Mandrillus sphinx

Height: 50-60 cm for females, 80 cm for males

Weight: 10-15 kg for females, 25-35 kg for males

Habitat: Primary and secondary rainforest, gallery forest and hills. Cameroon and Gabon.

Food: 90% fruits and seeds, leaves, bark, palm nuts, ants, termites, birds, rodents, frogs, birds, eggs, crabs. Mandrills spend most of their time feeding and sometimes venture into cassava or palm plantations.

Sexual maturity: 3-4 years for females, 9-10 years for males

Gestation: 7 months, the breeding season is the dry season in Gabon, from July to October (births from December to April).

Birth interval: 1.5 years

Longevity: 45-50 years

Social Structure: multi-male/multi-female groups, with up to several hundred individuals.

Ethology: diurnal, arboreal and terrestrial. Mandrills make a lot of gestures to communicate, from a friendly smile to impressive “head shaking”.

 

White-collared mangabeys

Number of individuals at the Centre: 3

Latin name: Cercocebus torquatus

Height: 60 cm without tail

Weight: 10 kg

Habitat: primary and secondary forest, mangrove forest, from Nigeria to Angola.

Food: fruit, leaves, flowers and small prey.

Sexual maturity: 3 years

Gestation: 5.5 months

Birth interval: 1 year

Longevity: 25-30 years

Social Structure: multi-male/multi-female groups, 15 to 60 individuals.

Ethology: diurnal, arboreal for eating and sleeping and terrestrial for travelling.

 

Western lowland gorillas

Number of individuals at the centre: 5

Latin name: Gorilla gorilla gorilla

Height: 1.50 m for females, 1.70 for males

Weight: 75 kg for females, up to 170 kg for males

Habitat: Primary and secondary rainforest, up to 3,000 m altitude, from Nigeria to the DRC

Food: 70% fruit, 20% seeds, leaves, and stems, and 3% caterpillars, termites and other larvae.

Sexual maturity: 6-7 years for females, 10 years for males

Gestation: 8-9 months

Birth interval: 4 years

Longevity: 50 years

Social Structure: 1 male (silverback) for several females, 3 to 20 individuals per group

Ethology: diurnal and terrestrial but can climb trees. Each evening the gorilla makes a nest of branches for sleeping.

 

OTHER AFRICAN SPECIES

Vervet monkeys or green monkeys

Number of individuals at the Centre: 11
Latin name: Chlorocebus aethiops

Height: 43 cm for females, 50 cm for males, without the tail
Weight: 3.3 kg for females, 4.6 kg for males

Habitat: savannah, grasslands in the Sahel, or mountains to 4,500 m altitude. These are the most widespread of all African monkeys, occupying all of sub-Saharan Africa.
Food: fruit, seeds, leaves, insects, birds, reptiles and small mammals.

Sexual maturity: 5 years
Gestation: 5.5 months

Birth interval: 16 months
Longevity: 30 years

Social Structure: multi-male/multi-female groups with 1.5 females per male. Groups of 5 to 70 individuals. Males migrate.
Ethology: diurnal, both terrestrial and arboreal. Vervets change their group structure, travel patterns and diet according to the seasons.

 

ASIAN SPECIES

Cynomolgus macaques or crab-eating macaques

Number of individuals at the Centre: Around 30 (from a breeding facility in Mauritius)

Scientific name: Macaca fascicularis

Height: 40-50 cm for females, 45-65 cm for males, without the tail

Weight: 2.5 to 5.5 kg for females, 5 to 5.5 kg for males

Habitat: primary and secondary forest, coastal areas, mangrove forests, swamps. Can live near villages. Southern Indochina, Burma, Indonesia, Philippines and India.

Food: 65% fruit, as well as seeds, buds, leaves, insects, frogs and crabs.

Sexual maturity: 4 years

Gestation: 5.5 months

Birth interval: 13 months

Longevity: 35-40 years

Social Structure: multi-male/multi-female groups with 2.5 females per male. Groups of several dozen individuals, up to a hundred, which often divide into subgroups. The males migrate.

Ethology: diurnal and arboreal. Good swimmers. The hierarchy is less pronounced than in other species of macaques.

 

Rhesus macaques

Number of individuals at the Centre: Around 30 (from a breeding facility in China or born in captivity at the Primate Centre)

Scientific name: Macaca mulatta

Height: 45-55 cm for females, 50-65 cm for males, without the tail

Weight: 4-10 kg for females, 5-10 kg for males

Habitat: semi-arid regions to tropical areas, from 0 to 3000 m altitude. Present from Afghanistan and India to Thailand and southern China.

Food: fruit, seeds, buds, leaves, insects.

Sexual maturity: 4 years

Gestation: 5.5 months

Birth interval: 1-2 years

Longevity: 20-30 years

Social Structure: multi-male/multi-female groups of a few dozen individuals. The hierarchy is strictly established based on matrilineal lines. Males are dominant over females, but are peripheral to the group and change groups after a few years.

Ethology: diurnal and mainly terrestrial. Among macaques, rhesus monkeys are known for being belligerent. One group was even observed driving off a tiger!

 

SCIENTIFIC OUTPUT 2009

The Primate Centre represents a unique asset for Gabon through constant production of knowledge in the form of high-level scientific publications as well as general public articles to educate people about this extraordinary national treasure.
Publications in peer-reviewed journals

Simon F, Roques P. Simians immunodeficiency virus types 1 and 2 (SIV mnd 1 and 2) have different pathogenic potentials in rhesus macaques upon experimental cross-species transmission. J Gen Virol. 2009 Feb ;90 (Pt 2) :488-99.
Bisvigou U, Mickoto B, Ngoubangoye B, Mayi Tsonga S, Akue JP, Nkoghe D Seroprevalence of toxoplasmosis in a rural population in south-west Gabon Parasite. 2009 Sep;16(3):240-2.

Other publications
Pauwels O. S. G. & Sallé B. Miscellanea Herpetologica Gabonica III. Hamadryad 2009 Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 22-27.

L. Dravigney, B. Sallé Etiology of death in a Primate Center : a 30 years Survey. Folia Primatologica, in press

Herbert A.*, Verrier D.*, Makuwa M., Kazanji M., Pontier D. Epidemiology of parasite infections in mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx) in Gabon : diversity, abundance, prevalence and risk factors. Folia Primatologica, in press
B. Sallé, P. Motsch, J.P. Gonzalez. Le Centre de Primatologie du CIRMF, l'un des plus grands d'Afrique. Bulletin annuel de la Société Francophone de Primatologie.

Grey literature
L. Dravigney, B. Sallé.

Le gorille du Gabon : un cousin en danger.
Gabon Magazine September-December 2009


B. Sallé.

Brochure presenting the CDP


B. Sallé

Ph.D. thesis, University of Medicine Paris Sud, speciality Immunology-Virology.

Etude du rôle des cellules infectées dans la transmission par voie sexuelle du VIH et étude de molécules a visée microbicide : approche dans le modèle de l'infection expérimentale par les SHIV162mfp5/SIVmac251 chez le macaque cynomolgus.
Thesis director: Roger le Grand (SIV IMETI, CEA). Defended December 15, 2023 at CEA Fontenay-aux-Roses (92-France).

 

B. Ngoubangoye (supervised by D. Verrier)

Master 2 Thesis, UCBL1 , Lyon

Epidémiologie descriptive et dynamique de transmission des virus SIV et STLV dans une population de mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) en semi-liberté.

A. Herbert. (Supervised by D. Verrier) Master 2 Thesis: Santé animale et épidémiosurveillance dans les pays du sud UM2-CIRAD-ENVT, Montpellier Epidémiologie des infestations parasitaires chez le mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) au Gabon : diversité, abondance, prévalence et facteurs de risque.

A. Herbert. (Supervised by D. Verrier) Ph.D. Thesis in Veterinary Science (ENVT): Contribution à l'étude du parasitisme chez le mandrill au Gabon.

G. Olliba (Supervised by D. Verrier)

Professional License Report in Computer Science at the Institut Supérieur de Technologie: Optimisation de la base de données primate et réalisation de l'application gestion de primates au CIRMF

Conferences

Dravigney L., Sallé B.

Etiologie de la mortalité dans un Centre de Primatologie : une étude sur 30 ans.

XXII Conference of the Francophone Society of Primatology, October 2009, Liège, Belgium.

 

Motsch P., Sallé B., Gonzalez J.P.

Contribution à l'acquisition de nouvelles données sur Cercopithecus solatus, le cercopithèque à queue de soleil du Gabon.

XXII Conference of the Francophone Society of Primatology, October 2009, Liège, Belgium.

Epidémiologie des infestations parasitaires chez le mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) au Gabon : diversité, abondance, prévalence et facteurs de risque.
XXII Conference of the Francophone Society of Primatology, October 2009, Liège, Belgium.
Media Communication
Kanzanji M., Mouinga Ondeme A., Grard G., Sallé B.
Participation in television program by Yann Arthus Bertrand “Vu du Ciel”; filmed at the CIRMF in December, the program aired on the Belgian channel La Une on September 5, 2009, and on the French channel France 2 on March 29, 2010.


Dravigney L., Sallé B.

Involvement in a series of thirteen 30-minute documentaries for Acqua Vita Films: “Gorilla School” (filmed at the Gorilla Protection Project). Aired on Animal Planet on May 4, 2010.


Gonzalez J.P., Mouinga A., Makuwa M., Kassosso L., Nkoghe D., Leroy E., Dravigney L.,

Ngoubangoye B., Sallé B.

Participation in a 52-minute documentary by Patrice Desenne “H1N1, nos virus ont de l'avenir” Aired on French channel France 5 on March 23, 2010, TV5 and in 6 other countries


J.P. Gonzalez, D. Nkoghe, E. Leroy, D. Verrier, B.Sallé, B. Ngoubangoye

Participation in various news reports commemorating the 30th anniversary of CIRMF. Aired on RTG1 in November-December 2009.

 

The sun-tailed guenon of Gabon