Uganda Suspends Gorilla, Chimp Tracking to Protect Primates from COVID-19

A chimpanzee takes care of its young one.

The Uganda Wild Authority (UWA) has suspended the tracking of gorillas and other primates as a way of protecting wildlife from possible infection with Coronavirus.

UWA says the move is part of measures to protect Uganda’s wildlife heritage, staff and visitors who visit protected areas and tourism business in protected areas. Despite of the inevitable impact the suspension will have on Uganda’s tourism, UWA says it is necessary for conservation.

Due to the genetic similarity between humans and gorillas, gorillas are susceptible to many of the same infectious diseases that affect people. In the last 100 or so years, the gorillas have been exposed to an ever-growing number of humans with whom they share their forest homes.

As a result primate tourism and research in all the protected areas has been suspended until April, UWAA’s Executive Director, Sa Mwandha said in a statement.

He said trackers (UWA staff who conduct surveillance on the animals) will be provided with personal protective gear to avoid passing on any possible infection to the primates.

Commercial motorcycles and bicycles are prohibited in all protected areas.

An internal COVID-19 task force and been formed to work closely with the National Task Force and update and guide management on the day-to-day developments in the containment of the spread of COVID-19 and its implications to wildlife conservation and tourism in the protected areas.

Mwandha also said UWA has relaxed the rescheduling of gorilla and chimpanzee tracking.

This follows the cancellations as a result of travel restrictions, by foreign tourists who intended to visit Uganda. The tourism industry in Uganda and globally has been among the most affected by the pandemic.

UWA says tour operators are allowed to reschedule tracking permits for a maximum of two times up to March 2022.

“This offer is valid even for those who booked with 30 percent down payment. This is intended to give tour operators and our visitors more flexibility to avoid cancellation of trips already booked,” Mwandha said.

At least 30,000 tourists visit Uganda to particularly track gorillas, primates whose threat status was in 2018 downgraded from critically endangered to endangered.

Uganda earns a significant foreign revenue from gorilla tracking. Over 50% of UWA’s revenue generated from wildlife tourism comes from tracking gorillas.

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