Conservationists at Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have taken the decision to close to tourism to shield the mountain gorillas there from the new coronavirus, COVID-19.
Primates can catch respiratory illnesses from humans, and mountain gorillas can die from the common cold according to the WWF.
In a statement, Virunga National Park have shared that the scientific advice they’ve received indicates that COVID-19 could cause complications in mountain gorillas.
Neighbouring Rwanda, which is also home to mountain gorillas and other primates, has also shut three national parks.
Mountain gorillas are a subspecies of the eastern gorilla, and are only found in the Virunga Mountain in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, and the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
The subspecies is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. It had previously been listed as Critically Endangered but were reclassified in 2018 after numbers rose to just over 1,000 following conservation efforts.
At the time of the census, David Attenborough said:
“When I first visited the mountain gorillas in 1979, the situation was dire; the number of these remarkable animals was dreadfully small. It is incredibly heartening therefore to see how the efforts of so many different groups – communities, governments, NGOs – have paid off. The threats to mountain gorillas haven’t disappeared entirely, of course, so now the challenge must be to ensure that these achievements are sustained long into the future.”
In February, four mountain gorillas in Uganda died after being hit by lighting, including a pregnant female.
Main image: Female mountain gorilla with an infant in Virunga. © Piper Mackay/Getty