Tourists without a mask could spread COVID-19 in gorillas, experts warn | Coronavirus | DW

Primates can also get COVID-19. This is why a group of experts has warned about the risk that mountain gorillas could run in East Africa, especially since tourists who take selfies near animals rarely wear a mask.

A study by Oxford Brookes University, which was published by the scientific journal People and Nature, examined a thousand posts on Instagram in which it can be seen that “most tourists who go hiking with gorillas get close enough to the animals without wear a mask to enable the transmission of viruses and diseases. “

In this way, the authors consider that “tourists could be spreading the virus that causes COVID-19” to these wild animals by taking selfies without the proper precautions. Last January, a group of gorillas at the San Diego Zoo tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, showing that the current pandemic may also affect great apes.

Photos of tourists visiting mountain gorillas in West Africa show that they “rarely wear masks, which carries the potential for disease transmission,” warned Magdalena Svensson, a professor of biological anthropology at Oxford Brookes University.

The expert expressed her hope that, now that people around the world are getting used to wearing masks, the use of these will become “a common practice in gorilla hiking in the future.”

This transmission risk “is very worrying”, so the study’s lead author, Gaspard Van Hamme, considers it “vital that we strengthen and enforce travel regulations to ensure that hiking with gorillas does not lead to increased threat to these already endangered great apes. “

Mountain gorillas are endemic to the East African region. They are present in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. In recent decades they have suffered the harmful effects of human activities, but in recent years the number of specimens has started to increase and there are an estimated 1,063 individuals.

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“Trekking” is an important financial support for the conservation of mountain gorillas, but the large number of visitors can affect wildlife and the environment, the study adds. The guidelines to mitigate these effects include maintaining a minimum distance of seven meters between visitors and gorillas, but the study shows “that these guidelines are not being followed or properly enforced.”

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