COVID-19: Gorillas At Risk From Selfie-Taking Tourists

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Tourists who take selfies with wild mountain gorillas could put the primates at risk of developing Covid-19, according to new research.

Scientists from Oxford Brookes University, England, looked at hundreds of Instagram posts from people visiting the animals in East Africa and found most tourists were close enough to gorillas to spread viruses and diseases, according to a press release from the university on Tuesday.

“The risk of disease transmission between visitors and gorillas is very concerning,” said study lead author Gaspard Van Hamme, an Oxford Brookes University alumnus who started work on the study during his masters program.

“It is vital that we strengthen and enforce tour regulations to ensure gorilla trekking practices do not further threaten these already imperiled great apes.”

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Mountain gorillas are listed as endangered, with an estimated 1,063 of them left in the wild, according to the release.

They live in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Virunga National Park), Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park), and Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park).

Researchers looked at 858 photos posted on Instagram from 2013-2019 under two hashtags — #gorillatrekking and #gorillatracking, said the study.

Of that number, 86% showed people within four meters (13.1 feet) of gorillas, and 25 of those photos showed tourists touching gorillas.

Researchers found tourists were close enough to the East African primates to make transmission possible.

“We found that face masks were rarely worn by tourists visiting gorillas and that brings potential for disease transmission between people and the gorillas they visit,” said Magdalena Svensson, lecturer in biological anthropology at Oxford Brookes University, in a statement.

Those visiting gorillas in the wild were asked to wear face masks even before the pandemic, Svensson told CNN, as part of “Best Practice Guidelines for Great Ape Tourism” developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“They’re so genetically close to us they can get most of the things we can get” — such as influenza, Ebola and the common cold, she said.

Now that we know gorillas can catch Covid-19, it is even more important that visitors wear a mask, added Svensson.

Svensson told CNN that visitors are also asked to stay a minimum of seven meters (23 feet) away from the animals, but image analysis shows the average distance has been falling over time.

“It’s a huge health risk for them,” she said, explaining that even at four meters (13.1 feet) illnesses can be transmitted.

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Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
Our Editorial Staff at St. Lucia Times is a team publishing news and other articles to over 200,000 regular monthly readers in Saint Lucia and in over 150 other countries worldwide.


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