Why shouldn’t you get close to great apes?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Our Wild World - James Fair

AHu­mans and great apes are so ge­net­i­cally sim­i­lar that these an­i­mals are at risk of catch­ing dis­eases from us – to which they have no im­mu­nity. A study pub­lished in 2018 iden­ti­fied 33 known in­stances in which peo­ple had trans­mit­ted pathogens to chim­panzees, orang­utans and go­ril­las, in cap­tive, semi-wild and wild pop­u­la­tions.

Dis­eases that can be passed onto great apes in­clude res­pi­ra­tory con­di­tions such as in­fluenza, pneu­mo­nia and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, and bac­te­rial in­fec­tions such as sal­mo­nella.

But even a seem­ingly un­threat­en­ing virus can have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact. In 2009, for ex­am­ple, 11 out of 12 moun­tain go­ril­las in Rwanda be­came sick af­ter con­tract­ing the hu­man metap­neu­movirus (which, for us, man­i­fests as a com­mon cold); of these, an adult fe­male and an in­fant male died.

This is why moun­tain go­rilla tourism rules spec­ify that you should not ap­proach closer than 7m if you’re wear­ing a mask; 10m if you’re not, and why time with any group is lim­ited to just one hour.

Get­ting too close to go­ril­las prob­a­bly poses more dan­ger to them than it does to you.

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