Protecting gorillas & chimpanzees from COVID-19
The mind-boggling question is how to keep the most precious African apes protected from the most dangerous scourge in modern history, Covid-19. With mountain gorilla numbers growing steadily at 1064 individuals and still listed as endangered on the ICUN red list, answers to that question are vital to our cousins’ continued existence. Uganda’s rangers, researchers, and guides have been briefed. They are ready to protect our African jungle jewels.
Gorilla tracking, chimpanzee tracking, and golden monkey tracking are some of the most sought-after safaris in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of the three countries, Uganda has the most significant percentage of the endangered mountain gorillas in its Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and the other percentage shared by the Virunga Conservation Area, which Uganda shares in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Chimpanzees and golden monkey tracking are done in Mgahinga National Park and Kibale National Park.
In the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic, our way of life has been threatened and tremendously changed. Mostly in terms of how we relate to each other. Just as the coronavirus affects humans, it can also potentially affect gorillas, chimpanzees, golden monkeys, and different types of primates, which are already threatened with extinction from human encroachment, poachers, and other diseases.
How are Nkuringo gorillas faring after the death of their leader?
Although there is no proven case of the coronavirus being spread from humans to primates, the risk is enormous because primates share close to 99% of DNA with humans, therefore susceptible to infections from human respiratory pathogens and diseases.
Common cold can kill a gorilla thus it is crucial to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pathogens from humans to the great apes.
Globally, prevention measures among humans have been put in place, including social distancing to avoid contracting the disease. However, primates may not abide by this distancing rule and often come close to or even touch a tourist.
How is Uganda protecting gorillas an chimpanzees from coronavirus?
This has prompted the wildlife authorities to put measures in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. These include the following.
- The government has restricted travel to and out of the country to avoid the importation of the virus.
- Primate tourism and research in all protected areas have been suspended indefinitely.
- All activities that include close contact with the chimpanzees in Ngamba Island, including direct feeding, behavioral research, volunteers, have also been suspended.
- Daily trackers and monitoring staff must wear protective gear to avoid passing any possible infection to the primates.
- Uganda Wildlife Authority has relaxed the rescheduling policy of your gorilla and chimpanzee tracking to avoid the cancellation of trips already booked. You are allowed to reschedule tracking permits to your following preferred dates for a maximum of two times up to 31st March 2022.
- Domestic tourism is open with strict guidelines to contain the spread of the virus. The MoH will assess the situation and advise on new procedures for international travel.
- UTB, UWA, AUTO have all passed guiding principles to operators and facilities to adhere to domestic travel and when the parks are open to the international community.
When is Uganda opening travel to the outside world?
The above measures remain in place until long-term needs concerning mitigating effects of the outbreak are assessed. The standards have implications on tourism activities and earnings but are necessary to protect and conserve our wildlife resources.
As we all deal with all these changes, be assured you are not grappling with this alone. We are optimistic that the measures undertaken will keep the primates and other animals safe and protected from the coronavirus pandemic.
Stay home and stay safe.