Measures taken to protect gorillas from Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the novel Coronavirus continues to paralyze both life and business as it spreads around the world, concerns have been raised about the position of wildlife regarding this pandemic. In particular, stakeholders are concerned about the safety of gorillas which are always visited by international travelers, majority of whom come from countries that are already affected by COVID-19.

There is fear that if by any mistake any traveler who may have contracted the virus can easily spread it to the animals once they get in touch while in the wild. One of the main terrifying factors is that majority of the travelers who come for gorilla safaris to trek mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda come from countries that are severely hit by the virus. Such countries include the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, France, Australia, among others.

In response to the above concerns, governments and other conservation organizations that are in charge of protecting gorillas gave come up with some measures and guidelines to ensure that gorillas and other wildlife species remain safe and protected from Coronavirus. Governments through wildlife authorities like the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Rwanda Development Board together with other conservation organizations like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund have all come up with several measures to protect gorillas and other animals from COVID-19.

Some of the measures taken by authorities to protect wildlife from coronavirus include the following;
• The government of Uganda has restricted travel to and from countries that are already affected by Coronavirus in in order to control its importation into the country. The government has gone on to categorize these countries into categories 1 to 3 depending on the severity of the outbreak in such countries. Travelers from severely hit countries (category 1) like China, Italy, South Korea, United States, United Kingdom, Spain, among others have been advised to postpone their travel to Uganda. Those who cannot avoid coming to Uganda from these countries will be subjected to a 14-day quarantine period in isolated places at their own cost before being allowed to go wherever they want to. This also includes tourists who are intending to visit several wildlife destinations including trekking gorillas.
• Thorough testing for Coronavirus is also taking place at several entry points including airports at Entebbe and Kigali and at border crossings to ensure that those may exhibit symptoms of COCID-19 or test positive are quickly isolated before accessing wildlife destinations like national parks and other areas.
• Wildlife authorities are also ensuring that all the staff working with wildlife at all national parks including rangers, vets and trackers are all tested and give protective gear like gloves for both their protection and that of animals.
• Other measures include limiting the time that both the wildlife staff and the tourists have been spending in the presence of animals. Distance between humans and the animals is also strongly emphasized to limit any chance of virus transmission to the animals.

Other conservation organizations like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund that is dedicated to protect gorillas in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo have also come up with some protective measures in order to combat the spread of coronavirus to the animals. Some of their measures include;
• Limiting the time staff spends in the presence of animals while doing their daily activities like monitoring the health of gorillas. After checking on all the animals, the staff moves 100 meters away from them to maintain a protection presence.
• All field staff are subjected to daily health checks before going to meet the animals and anyone found with symptoms or fever are isolated and advised to seek medical attention.
• Other measures include staff wearing masks while in the field, undertaking mandatory and regular hand washing and sanitizing by all staff, placing posters that explain symptoms of COVID-19 and its control measures at several work areas to educated both staff and the community. Community engagement programs by the organization have also been temporarily suspended to reduce the risk of exposure.
With the above measures undertaken by both wildlife authorities and conservation organizations, there is optimism and hope that gorillas and other animals will be safe and well protected from the coronavirus pandemic.