African Officials Move To Protect Endangered Mountain Gorillas From The Spread Of Coronavirus

Images of the Bageni family in the gorilla sector of Virunga National Park
Brent Stirton / Getty Images

Conservationists are moving to protect Africa’s endangered mountain gorillas from visitors, saying that the species is vulnerable to the coronavirus that is spreading across the globe.

As ABC News reported, wildlife officials in Africa have started to take steps to protect the species, including barring visitors from Virunga National Park in Congo and closing down access to other parks as well. The report noted that scientific experts indicate that all primates are susceptible to the COVID-19 virus that has now reached all corners of the globe, and that an outbreak could be potential devastating to the species.

A number of countries have joined Congo in shutting down national parks where the mountain gorillas live, barring tourists from visiting through at least the start of June. As ABC News noted, gorillas can acquire the same kind of respiratory ailments that humans suffer, and often to much more dire effects.

“Mountain gorillas are prone to some respiratory illnesses that afflict humans. A common cold can kill a gorilla, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, one reason why tourists tracking gorillas are not normally permitted to get too close,” the report noted.

It was not clear if any mountain gorillas had been affected by COVID-19, but Paula Kahumbu, chief executive of the Kenya-based conservation group WildlifeDirect, said they must make sure it is not transmitted to the species. At the same time, the closure of the parks leaves them even more susceptible to poachers, officials said.

“We know that gorillas are very sensitive to human diseases,” she said. “If anyone has a cold or a flu they are not allowed to go and see the gorillas. With coronavirus having such a long time of no symptoms in some cases, it means that we could actually put those gorillas at risk.”

The continent of Africa had been one of the least effected by the spread of the virus, with cases just topping 1,000 for the first time this weekend. As The Associated Press reported, African nations have started to go into lockdown to prevent the coronavirus from being spread further.

Nigeria announced on Saturday that it was closing all airports to incoming international flights for one month, and Rwanda has banned all unnecessary trips outside the home for the next two weeks, following the lead of Italy and China and a number of American states that barred all but essential trips for things like grocery shopping and medicine.