"When People Take Pandemic Precautions, Gorillas Breathe Easier"

"A preliminary report suggests that mask wearing and social distancing may curb the spread of disease from humans to great apes."

"The mountain gorillas that live in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park have frequent encounters with humans. On any given day, the animals might come across smartphone-toting tourists, fecal-sample-swiping biologists or antibiotic-administering veterinarians.

So when the coronavirus started spreading around the world in early 2020, experts worried that people might unwittingly pass the virus to the endangered apes, which are known to be vulnerable to a variety of human pathogens.

“In the past, other human viruses have caused respiratory illness in the gorillas,” said Dr. Kirsten Gilardi, the executive director of Gorilla Doctors, an international team of veterinarians that provides care for wild gorillas. “We were on pins and needles wondering, OK, if this virus gets into the mountain gorillas, what’s it going to do?”

In March 2020, in an effort to safeguard the animals, Rwanda temporarily closed Volcanoes National Park. When the park reopened a few months later, it had strict new precautions in place, including requiring tourists and researchers to wear masks and keep their distance from the gorillas. These rules, plus a general drop-off in tourism, mean that the park’s gorillas have had relatively few close encounters with humans during the pandemic, Dr. Gilardi said."

Emily Anthes reports for the New York Times February 21, 2022.

Source: NYTimes, 02/22/2022