Concern over mountain gorillas getting infected with coronavirus

Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo ban tourists from endangered species

 Virunga National Park, home to about a third of the world’s mountain gorillas, has barred visitors until June 1st over fears of Covid-19 infection. Photograph: Jerome Delay

Virunga National Park, home to about a third of the world’s mountain gorillas, has barred visitors until June 1st over fears of Covid-19 infection. Photograph: Jerome Delay

 

Both Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have banned tourists from viewing endangered mountain gorillas due to the risk of the primates becoming infected with coronavirus.

Visitors are barred from Congo’s Virunga National Park until June 1st. A statement on the park’s Facebook page said the decision was made “as a result of the rapidly unfolding situation regarding the global spread of Covid-19”.

“The park’s temporary closure of mountain gorilla tourism is being undertaken as a precautionary measure and is in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendation to restrict movement and limit social contact. For Virunga in particular, it has been taken following advice from scientific experts indicating that primates, including mountain gorillas, are likely susceptible to complications arising from the Covid-19 virus. As such, we must remain steadfast in safeguarding our population of this endangered species,” the statement said.

Stopping poachers

About one-third of the world’s mountain gorillas live in Virunga, while the others live between Rwanda and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

The number of mountain gorillas has grown over the past decade due to conservation and efforts to stop poachers, and their population is now believed to be more than 1,000. “As they do not survive in captivity, preservation of these fragile habitats is essential for their survival,” states the website of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, adding that “gorillas display uncanny human characteristics”.

Rwanda became the first African country to order a full lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, which included a shutdown of borders from March 21st.

‘Anxious times’

“We call upon our partners managing wildlife across the continent to take every measure to protect wildlife during this difficult time,” African Wildlife Foundation chief executive Kaddu Sebunya said in a tweet.

“Covid-19 has disrupted our world as we know it. Sending my warmest thoughts to everyone as we navigate these anxious times, especially to those at highest risk of infection, and to health workers whose jobs demand that they be at the epicentre of this pandemic. You are not alone.”

The Uganda Wildlife Authority has been sharing photos of masks online and information about ways to avoid catching Covid-19, but so far has not ordered trips to the mountain gorillas to stop. Uganda – which just announced its first coronavirus case – has also completely shut its borders, with mass gatherings, big weddings and “merry-making” banned.