Do gorillas, sharks and wolves avoid illnesses because they do not eat chemically treated food like humans do? No, that's not true: Gorillas and wolves, both mammals, do get sick and can contract infections and diseases, wildlife experts told Lead Stories. Scientific studies and animal conservation groups have reported the same about the oft-repeated claim sharks never sicken.
The claim about the health of gorillas, sharks and wolves appeared in a video (archived here) on Instagram on February 2, 2023. It opened with a person saying:
The human body is not designed to get sick. The gorilla doesn't get sick. The shark doesn't get sick or neither does the wolf.
Here is what the post looked like at the time of the writing of this fact check:
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Mon Feb 6 16:34:10 2023 UTC)
This fact check is focusing on the video's claim about gorillas, sharks and wolves: All three do get sick.
Gorillas follow a largely plant-based diet, according to the World Wildlife Fund, but that does not protect them from sickness.
"Gorillas along with many other animal species get sick just like humans do," Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, founder and chief executive officer of Uganda-based Conservation Through Public Health, a research and advocacy group for the protection of gorillas and their habitats, told Lead Stories via email on February 6, 2023. She explained:
Mountain gorillas have had scabies, respiratory disease outbreaks including common flu viruses and intestinal diseases which have caused sickness and in extreme cases death
Wolves, which are carnivores, also do not have immunity from disease.
When asked by Lead Stories if wolves get sick, wolf researcher Dave Mech, a senior research scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, responded via email on February 7, 2023: "The short answer is yes." He continued:
They are subject to many of the illnesses of dogs, including canine parvovirus, rabies, distemper, leptospirosis, blastomycosis and several others. My 2003 book, "Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation" includes 6 pages on various diseases wolves can get, not counting parasites.
Scientists in Alaska, home to one of the United States' largest wolf populations, have identified over 70 types of worms and blood-sucking parasites that affect the gray wolf, aside from multiple other infections and diseases. In a study titled, "Infectious and Parasitic Diseases of the Gray Wolf and Their Potential Effects on Wolf Populations in North America," the Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides a detailed overview:
Numerous infectious and parasitic diseases have been reported for the gray wolf, including more than 10 viral, bacterial, and mycotic diseases and more than 70 species of helminths and ectoparasites.
Sharks, a prehistoric predator fish now under threat from over-fishing, according to scientists, enjoy no greater immunity.
"Sharks get bacterial and viral infections and suffer significantly from parasites," Shark Conservation Australia reported. "Indeed, sharks are infected by thousands of tapeworms and other parasites which can be found everywhere in their body, including the brain, eyes or gills."
A study published in the Journal of Fish Diseases titled, "First reports of proliferative lesions in the great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias L., and the bronze whaler shark, Carcharhinus brachyurus Gunther," noted in 2013 that sharks have cancerous lesions:
While reported cases are relatively low, both benign and cancerous proliferative lesions have been reported in 21 species of sharks from over 9 families.
Lead Stories previously has debunked other false claims about gorillas, sharks and wolves.