Anderson arrived in September with her chimpanzee researcher husband, Dean, their 3 1/2-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter. They live, along with a fist-sized furry spider, in a simple concrete dwelling lit by candles stuffed into Chianti bottles. Evenings are spent in a thatched-roof communal gazebo that serves as a dining room and meeting spot.
The atmosphere is relaxed, far from the frantic mood in Kikwit or the panic portrayed in "Outbreak," the Hollywood blockbuster about an Ebola epidemic enveloping a California town.
"My friends think I'm crazy," Anderson says with a laugh, but she doesn't worry about passing Ebola to her children.
The conditions are primitive, but safety standards in the lab are strict. She and Formenty wear surgical gloves, cloaks and face masks, along with plastic visors that fog up as the temperature climbs in the room. Her concentration is palpable as she inserts needles into bat wings and snips open the bellies of shrews.
A Swiss scientist contracted Ebola here in 1994, apparently during a chimpanzee autopsy performed while she wore gardening gloves. The gloves apparently allowed some of the animal's infected blood to penetrate her skin, a classic form of transmitting the virus, which is passed through bodily fluids.
She recovered, and the case prompted scientific interest in the Tai forest as an Ebola source. Ebola appears to have a cycle here, emerging late in the year after the rainy season. The Swiss woman fell ill in November 1994; one year later, a Liberian man living just across the border contracted Ebola. The Tai team hopes its project will coincide with another outbreak.
"With Ebola, you don't like to see it emerge from wherever it is, but that's the only way you can study it. By being in the Tai forest, where there's already a history of Ebola problems, we're just hoping to be here at the right time," said U.S. Army Maj. Neal Woollen, a veterinarian from the Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases who also worked on the Kikwit outbreak.
It's not only the apparent pattern that makes Tai an ideal research spot. The forest has been a focus of primate studies for more than a decade, so its monkey and chimpanzee groups are well known to other scientists who have been tracking them for years. If one dies mysteriously, the animal researchers will alert the Ebola hunters to test it.
The Ivorian government welcomes the research, a rarity in Africa, where other governments have been loathe to admit their countries could be the source of a hideous disease.
The government of Gabon refused to acknowledge the presence of Ebola during a 1994 outbreak there and officially classified the incident as a yellow fever outbreak. When Ebola broke out again this year in Gabon, the government was similarly resistant and battled with Formenty to keep casualty numbers artificially low.
Even with Ivory Coast's cooperation, there are problems. There is no laboratory in Abidjan to test for Ebola, so samples must be sent to Europe or the United States, packaged as hazardous material and transported on special cargo flights that are often booked up a month in advance.
Science can't always wait. When medical experts suspected Ebola was loose in Kikwit, one doctor sneaked a blood sample on board a commercial flight and smuggled it out of Zaire. The blood was tested at the Centers for Disease Control and provided confirmation of Ebola in Kikwit.
The biggest obstacle, though, remains spotting the virus as soon as it emerges and blocking its progress to other animals or humans.
"The unfortunate side of that is if Ebola causes another problem, some more chimps or monkeys or something else in the forest is going to die," Woollen said. "It's kind of a two-edged thing. . . . On one hand, we're hoping the virus will cause a problem from a scientific aspect. From a humane aspect, in terms of caring for the creatures of the forest, you hope it never resurfaces."