Dressed in full containment gear in the unforgiving Congo Rainforest of Central Africa, a group of scientists is currently staking-out in a jungle tent to hunt for a creature thought to be the source of ebola outbreaks. Hanging between the trees is a huge 160 square-meter net, which the scientists use to catch the fruit-eating Hammerhead Bat.
The hammerhead bat is a species of fruitbat/megabat that resides in the Congo, and is one of three Congo-dwelling bats believed to be a reservoir for the ebola virus.
Once a hammerhead is caught in the net, a veterinarian will carefully remove the bat. The bat is then placed in a bag and carried a few hundred meters through the jungle to the camp. The scientists photograph, weigh, and measure the bat, before breaking out the syringes and sampling blood from the bat’s wing.
Scientists know a lot about ebola at this point, but its natural history still remains a mystery, i.e. why the virus suddenly emerges from the wild, and where it lurks when it is not infecting someone. The ebola virus surfaced in 2013 in Guinea, and it did not take long for it to spread to neighboring countries Liberia and Sierra Leone. Most ebola outbreaks have occurred in Central Africa. The virus, named after the Ebola River where it appeared, killed more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia in the largest recorded outbreak.
Scientists have found evidence of ebola infections in several bat species, but have never extracted a live virus from them.
The samples currently being collected from these hammerhead bats will be shipped off to a containment facility in Montana. These scientists are hoping to finally have concrete proof that the hammerhead bat is indeed a reservoir for the ebola virus. They also hope to figure out how the disease is spread from the bats to other wildlife.