Protecting Gorillas and Chimpanzees from Covid-19
Protecting gorillas and chimpanzees from Covid-19 is very crucial and the Uganda Wildlife Authority is doing all it can to ensure that the gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates, as well as wildlife in the country’s protected areas, do not catch the ever-spreading and deadly Coronavirus disease that has left many worldwide lifeless and greatly affected. Uganda is one of the countries that are blessed to host the very active chimpanzees and golden monkeys, as well as the endangered mountain gorillas that can only be found in the Virunga Massif area that encompasses Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda and Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park; and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganda that hosts more than half the total world mountain gorilla population.
Since the coming of the Novel Coronavirus Disease, Covid-19 that has claimed and still is claiming lives worldwide, a lot has changed in the way of life of literally the whole world on how we relate not only socially with others but also with animals which some have as pets since they are at risk of catching the deadly virus that is believed to be transmittable to animals too. Given that gorillas and chimpanzees share a 98-99% DNA with humans, they are more at risk of catching Covid-19 since they are susceptible to human infections especially respiratory-related. This leaves the primates at a risk of extinction since most of them are already endangered say mountain gorillas. Also, gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates like golden monkeys are already greatly threatened by poachers, habitat loss from land encroachers as well as diseases like Ebola so having another deadly virus added on their risk factor will only have them being extinct in a few years.
Much as it is not yet scientifically proven that Covid-19 can be spread from humans to gorillas and chimpanzees as well as other primates, their sharing a DNA of up to 99% puts them in danger since a mere common cold could kill a gorilla if infected with it. Some travellers on a gorilla trekking in Bwindi or any other gorilla park have been lucky to have gorillas come up-close to them and even touch them. With the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic, this puts the gorillas at a very high risk of contracting the illness since they cannot abide with the social-distancing rule that humans are encouraged to follow to contain the spread of the Coronavirus Disease. Protecting gorillas and chimpanzees from Covid-19 is therefore very important and below are some of the ways that this is being achieved;
First and foremost, travel in and out of the country has been restricted by the Uganda government to avoid importation of more Coronavirus infections. Travel restrictions have been implemented by the closure of Entebbe International Airport as well as all borders with the neighbouring countries that have only cargo and not passengers on board or entering the country.
Secondly, the country is currently on a complete lockdown up until 18th May 2020 so as to contain the spread of the disease. After this period, the situation will be assessed and new guidelines will be issued by the government. Having a complete country lockdown prevents even domestic tourism and thus protecting gorillas and chimpanzees from Covid-19.
Primate tourism and research in Uganda’s protected areas has been indefinitely suspended by the Uganda Wildlife Authority in the bid to protect the gorillas, chimpanzees, golden monkeys and all other primates from Covid-19 infections and possible deaths. Primate tourism includes gorilla trekking, gorilla habituation, chimpanzee tracking, chimpanzee habituation and golden monkey tracking.
Consequently, the Uganda Wildlife Authority relaxed the rescheduling policy of gorilla trekking and chimpanzee tracking so as to have travellers opt for postponement instead of cancellation of their already booked gorilla trekking safaris as well as chimpanzee tracking safaris. Travellers can now reschedule their tracking permits to their preferred dates, and they can reschedule up to two times. Travellers can reschedule their permits to up to two years, that is up until 31st March 2022.
Also, daily trackers and the monitoring stuff who go out to check on the gorillas and chimpanzees, as well as game rangers who protect the protected areas, do so whilst wearing protective gear in order to not infect the gorillas in chimpanzees with Covid-19 should they be sick.
At Ngamba Island sanctuary, home to orphaned chimpanzees in Uganda, close-contact activities like behavioural research, direct feeding of the chimps as well as volunteering have been suspended until further notice. This is in the bid to protect the chimpanzees from Covid-19.
All the above-mentioned measures are some of the ways the government and the Uganda Wildlife Authority are protecting gorillas and chimpanzees from Covid-19. They will stay in place until when any of the parties communicate otherwise officially. Much as the measures limit and greatly affect the tourism industry, they are a necessary evil so that the next generations may find what we too found. Conservation, as well as protecting gorillas and chimpanzees from Covid-19 is the primary goal currently.
With the government and the Uganda Wildlife Authority doing all it can in protecting gorillas and chimpanzees from Covid-19 such that you, our esteemed traveller may enjoy a primate safari in Uganda after Covid-19, your role until then is to continue to stay safe. Follow all guidelines issued by your country’s health officials. We will travel again, after Covid-19.