Endangered mountain gorillas and COVID-19: One health lessons for prevention and preparedness during a global pandemic

Kirsten Gilardi, Julius Nziza, Benard Ssebide, Eddy Kambale Syaluha, Richard Muvunyi, Robert Aruho, Chantal Shalukoma, Andrew Seguya, Anna Behm Masozera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The world's 1063 mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) live in two subpopulations at the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. The majority of mountain gorillas are human-habituated to facilitate tourism and research, which brings mountain gorillas into close proximity of people daily. Wild great apes are proven to be susceptible to human pathogens, including viruses that have caused fatal respiratory disease in mountain gorillas (e.g., human metapneumovirus1). This is the result of the close genetic relatedness of humans and gorillas as species, and the structural and genetic similarity in molecular receptors that allow viruses to infect cells2. At the time of writing, there is no evidence that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, the coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19), has infected a mountain gorilla. However, due to the significant potential for human-to-gorilla transmission, mountain gorilla range States took immediate steps to minimize the COVID-19 threat. These actions included a combination of preventive practice around gorillas and other great apes (e.g., mandatory face mask use, increased “social” minimum distancing from gorillas) as well as human public health measures (e.g., daily health/fever screenings, COVID-19 screening, and quarantines). Minimization of the COVID-19 threat also required socioeconomic decision-making and political will, as all gorilla tourism was suspended by late March 2020 and guidelines developed for tourism reopening. A consortium that collaborates and coordinates on mountain gorilla management and conservation, working within an intergovernmental institutional framework, took a multifaceted One Health approach to address the COVID-19 threat to mountain gorillas by developing a phased contingency plan for prevention and response. The aim of this paper is to describe how range States and partners achieved this collaborative planning effort, with intent that this real-world experience will inform similar actions at other great ape sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • conservation
  • contingency planning
  • COVID-19
  • Gorilla beringei beringei
  • mountain gorilla
  • risk management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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