KAMPALA —Mountain gorillas share 98% of their DNA with humans and highly vulnerable to infectious diseases including Covid-19. Even though there is no recorded case among wild gorillas in Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, covid-19 transmission between humans and gorillas is possible given that Gorilla Trekking allows people to get closer to habituated groups in their natural habitats.
For instance, according to the scientific journal, Nature, outbreaks of covid-19 were documented after infected people came into close contact with western lowland gorillas living in artificial wildlife parks including Prague Zoo in Czech Republic (Europe) and in the United States of America (USA) at San Diego Safari Zoo.
Gorillas in the wild can get infected not only through human interaction but also through contact with waste left behind in the parks including food droplets and wrappings, drinking water bottles, cigarette pieces among others.
As a result, conservationists now anticipate potential impact the disease might put on the health of the endangered mountain gorilla population estimated at 1063 individuals. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in south-western Uganda, with over 400 gorillas, harbors half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas.
The rest of the gorillas live in Virunga Mountain ranges including Volcanoes Rwanda, Virunga Park in DR Congo and Mgahinga in Uganda.
In order to prevent the transmission of coronavirus to the primates, gorilla tourism authorities including Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Rwanda Development Board (RDB) have improved their gorilla trekking rules and regulations to guide visiting tourists and park staff including rangers and local community working daily in the field of monitoring and protection of gorillas and their habitats.
New rules and regulations for gorilla trekking amidst covid-19
On top of the standard gorilla rules applied before the pandemic, new guidelines have been introduced and must be complied with for those planning Gorilla tours to Rwanda and Uganda.
These rules help to protect gorillas by limiting human interaction given that tourist visits can have an impact on their natural behavior including daily activities such as feeding, playing and resting.
• Visitors must put on their face masks when viewing gorillas. This applies to trekking in Volcanoes, Bwindi impenetrable forest and Virunga national parks.
• Remain at least 10 meters (32 feet) away from the gorillas in any direction. The standard distance is 7 meters (22 feet). It has temporarily been adjusted for trekking gorillas during covid-19 but will be maintained once the pandemic is minimal
• Selfie taking is not allowed
• Regular use of disinfectants including hand sanitizer is emphasized from the start to the end of the gorilla trek
Gorilla tracking rules before you set out on a gorilla trek
• Do not visit the gorillas if you have cold or other infectious illness
• 15 years and above is the recommended age for gorilla trekking with children
• Human waste including feces must be buried 30cm deep underground
• Maximum number of visitors is eight for every single gorilla family per day
• Keep your voices low while in the forest as it can scare away possible wild animal sights.