African national parks close to protect gorillas and chimpanzees from coronavirus

Virunga NP Mountain Gorilla

National parks in Rwanda and Congo are temporarily shutting their doors to tourists and researchers to protect Africa’s endangered chimpanzees and mountain gorillas from contracting coronavirus.

Virunga ​― Africa’s oldest national park ― in the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to around one-third of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. There are just over 1,000 left globally. Following advice from scientific experts that primates, including mountain gorillas, are likely susceptible to complications arising from the Covid-19 virus, Virunga will bar visitors until 1 June.

Chimpanzees share 98.8 per cent of DNA with humans, making them vulnerable to the same infectious diseases.

“Human origin diseases are a persistent threat to mountain gorillas, from common colds to coronavirus,” Cath Lawson, Africa conservation manager at the World Wildlife Fund UK (WWF) told The Independent.

“It is not yet known for sure if non-human great apes are susceptible to the Sars CoV-2 virus which causes the disease Covid-19 in humans but they are susceptible to infection with other human respiratory illnesses.

In neighbouring Rwanda, tourism and research activities have also been temporarily stopped in three national parks that are home to primates.

Mountain gorillas and chimpanzees are known to be susceptible to infection with human respiratory pathogens, the Rwanda Development Board said in a statement on its decision to halt visits to Volcanoes, Gishwati-Mukura and Nyungwe parks.

The country’s fourth national park, Akagera, which is not home to primates, will remain open. Government officials are monitoring the park entry gate so visitors are screened and temperature checked before entry.

But the lockdown overall will have a major impact on the sustainability of these parks as safari and gorilla tracking permits make up the bulk of their revenues, conservationists warn.

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This is an excerpt from an article by Nosmot Gbadamosi, originally published in The Independent.