When tourists transmit their miasmas to great apes

When tourists transmit their miasmas to great apes
When tourists transmit their miasmas to great apes

With an article in the Guardian, which headlines that chimpanzees die of colds. Yes, colds, those that we humans can transmit to them when we show up in their forests to observe them, then not as scientists, no, they scrupulously respect the protocols with the wearing of masks, gel on the hands, quarantines, even, before going there, and the distance, we don’t get too close. But when you come with your camera, your cap and your Qechua hiking shoes, in short, as a tourist.

The British newspaper tells the story of 205 chimpanzees in Kibale National Park in Uganda, coughing, sneezing, and looking completely out of control. But there was no way of knowing where the symptoms were coming from, until the body of one of them, Stella, was spotted shortly after her death. American epidemiologist Tony Goldberg was able to autopsy her and found that she had died of severe pneumonia, caused by HMPV, a human virus synonymous with the common cold for us, therefore, but lethal for our closest relatives. More than 12% of the group, 25 individuals, died, not counting collateral damage, for example Stella’s baby who could not survive her. And the culprits, therefore, are the tourists, who come to rave about the chimpanzees or the gorillas, also affected by the phenomenon, do anything, explanation with the primatologist Sabrina Krief:

“In theory when tourists go to meet gorillas or chimpanzees there is a minimum distance to respect and of course no contact with the animals. In a study published in 2020 on 53 visits to gorillas, not all respected the distance limit”

But that’s not all! 282 YouTube videos were analyzed, and in 40% of them, there was direct contact with the animal, or approach within a few centimeters… – what wouldn’t we do to get likes on social networks, and everything, another study, and last element, without any precaution:

“In Kibale National Park, more than a hundred treks were studied and in this case almost 90% of tourists coughed and 65% sneezed”

All without a mask, of course, and with groups normally limited to six people to avoid too much pressure on the great apes, but who gathered with others, and here are 18 people at once passing their miasma on to them. So gorillas, chimpanzees or bonobos can get sick, primatologists often see them in the forest coughing, sneezing, or with diarrhea, but these are their illnesses, with their pathogens, there with humans who come from all over the world. is totally different, they are not suitable:

“The important thing to understand is that for many years they were isolated from contact with humans and therefore their immunity did not develop in contact with these pathogens, especially since the pathogens that we bring them from very far away. Eco tourism increases the risk for them »

An established risk: in certain groups, the transmission of human viruses or pathogens to monkeys was the main cause of death, 59%, more than poaching or loss of habitat in places. As for mountain gorillas, there are only a thousand left today, so each individual that dies represents a threat to the survival of the species. Problem, also raised in the Guardian: this ecotourism is also beneficial for the protection of great apes, the money it brings in encourages populations to mobilize against poaching, deforestation, precisely to preserve what is seen as a treasure also economical…

“It’s this eco tourism that probably saved the gorillas at least temporarily, so it would be a shame if it didn’t continue and, conversely, tourists kill with their diseases”

Impossible to give up this ecotourism for the moment, it’s a big dilemma, the snake biting its tail a little… Solution?

“It should above all come from the tourists themselves, that they take responsibility and do not put at risk the lives of the animals they come to watch”

Except that unfortunately often even if we say we love them, we love ourselves a little more, don’t we:

“Often, the excitement of this trip and the fact that tourists have dreamed of meeting gorillas for a long time, it is enough for them to have a little sore throat, the risk for the animals remains significant”

The balls on vacation. And the great apes would have done without it.

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