We have just lived through the worst pandemic event since the bad flu of 1918 and Covid 19 has killed thousands people, worldwide. Of course we have been afraid of this illness and we still feel threatened by it, since it is not over yet. But perhaps we do not know Covid can be a danger also for animals, and especially for great apes. In Africa, the nations that host the most beautiful species of apes were forced to stop safaris and even the close care to those animals. The contact between humans and apes could result into a Covid infection for the animals. Which can be as mortal as humans’.
Covid and great apes
Recent studies appeared on many scientific magazines and showed how the Covid pandemics can affect animals too. Apes, in particular, seem to be easily infected by it. Their body has many elements in common with the human body, so their reaction to the new virus is as hard as ours. Gorillas, chimpanzes and orangutans had been infected by Ebola a few years ago, and some apes have already been infected by Covid in Ivory Coast, during 2020. Two gorillas also became positive to Covid in January 2021, but they lived in a zoo in California.
So we must suspect that too much proximity between humans and animals can cause a bad pandemics among apes too. Besides that, we know for sure that Covid came from an animal – the bat – so it is possible that animals could transmit it back to humans again. Will it be the same virus? Will it be a new variant of it? The wisest thing to do, in this period, is to stop humans and apes from getting too close, which some African nations altrady did. In particular, Congo, Rwanda and Uganda have closed National Parks and great apes sanctuaries.
Stop tourism or change it according to Covid risk
The UNESCO has recently recommended to stop the great safaris or the specific trips to the great African apes‘ lands. This is not only to protect the people from new Covid infections from animals, but vice-versa as well. We must protect gorillas, chimpanzes, orangutans from being infected and possibly killed by a virus exchange with us. In order to investigate on tourism of the great apes’ lands, the British Exeter Online survey has distributed an exploratory survey online.
This will help to understand what shall we expect during 2021, what should the African national parks do and how. It is possible that great apes tourism must not stop, but only change a little bit. Maybe humans will not be allowed to get too close to apes, anymore. Guides will find new routes, new observation points so to let people admire those big animals. Will Covid be the new revolution that reorganizes tourism in Africa? Time will tell, and 2021 is the first step already.
Is there a future for great apes tourism?
The immediate future is still unknown and impossible to predict. But someday great apes tourism will be back. In the meantime, the African nations that used to have incomes from this are organizing new ways of planning local tourism. New safety rules for visitors, of course, but also a mixed solution of both real and virtual safari. Maybe they will take tourists to the environments of great apes, but only let them admire the animals from a screen. They could create more museums so to spread the pictures all over the world in a virtual mode. Of course the economic loss is huge and new jobs must be reinvented in future times for the African people who used to work with safaris.