Great apes in Africa on lockdown amid coronavirus threat

The great apes have been put on lockdown as conservationists worldwide fear that humans’ closest living relatives might also be susceptible to the coronavirus.

National parks and sanctuaries across Africa have closed to the public and to researchers after recommendations from leading experts who had already recommended social distancing measures be taken to protect the apes from the virus, according to the BBC.

“We don’t know if it’s infected mountain gorillas; we have not seen any evidence of that,” Dr. Kirsten Gilardi, the chief veterinary officer for Gorilla Doctors, told the outlet.

“But because mountain gorillas are susceptible to human pathogens, we know that they can develop respiratory illness.”

The recommendation comes after a tiger tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo on Sunday.

In mid-March, wildlife conservationist groups released a joint statement with recommendations to great ape site managers, researchers, and tourism operators, encouraging social distancing when visiting the apes and forbidding anyone who is sick from getting close to the apes.

Researchers and sanctuaries were heeding the advice and taking extra precautions to protect the apes, as growing reports about their vulnerability to infectious disease is now listed among the top threats, along with habitat loss and poaching, according to the report.

“It’s also a potentially dire situation for great apes. There is a lot at stake for those in danger of extinction,” the authors of a letter from 25 leading wildlife experts published in the journal Nature wrote, according to the Guardian.

“We hope for the best but should prepare for the worst and critically consider the impact of our activities on these endangered species.”

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