African national parks close to protect apes from coronavirus

 Wednesday, March 25, 2020 


The African national parks are closing its doors to protect the gorillas and chimpanzees. The national parks in Rwanda and Congo are provisionally shutting their doors to tourists and researchers to protect Africa’s endangered chimpanzees and mountain gorillas from contracting of coronavirus.


Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the abode of 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 are probably susceptible to complications arising from the COVID-19 virus, Virunga will bar visitors until 1 June.



Cath Lawson, Africa conservation manager at the World Wildlife Fund UK said that the human origin diseases are a persistent threat to mountain gorillas, from common colds to coronavirus.



Ms Lawson said that 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 so we assume that they are susceptible and action is being taken on that basis.



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


Rwanda has halted 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 temperatures 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. In the DRC a permit can cost up to $400 (£348), while in Rwanda it can fetch as much as $1,500 (£1,170).



The gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park alone earned $19.2m (£16.4m) in revenue in 2018, according to latest data from the Rwanda Development Board.


Dave Wilson, head of commercial development at African Parks which runs Akagera in Rwanda said despite the park remaining open there is almost no footfall due to travel restrictions.



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