Protecting mountain gorillas from covid19
Enable safe nature conservation work to protect mountain gorillas and local communities against the pandemic covid-19
The mountain gorillas live on the eastern slopes of the Albertine Rift straddling the border between DRC- Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Unlike anywhere else in the world the cloud forests of the Albertine rift contains some of the greatest treasures on earth. The landscape is dramatic with several dormant volcanoes and the remaining mountain forest harbor a spectacular richness of species, like a very last garden of Eden and a center for endemism. A place where evolution over the years have ‘’created’’ new species. These forests are the only place on planet Earth where 4 closely related species on our branch of the evolutionary tree coexist side by side. Besides us humans we find mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and Grauers gorillas!
The great apes’ species: Gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans are our closest cousins in the animal kingdom. Like us, they can contract highly infectious diseases. For instance, in the 2000s, gorillas and chimpanzees died of the ebola virus; in some areas up to 95% of the numbers of gorillas have been decimated by this disease. Today, as covid-19 is spreading around the world, all eyes are also turning to the great apes. The covid-19 virus is present in all three countries and at the doorstep to the mountain gorilla forest.
If covid-19 enters the habitat of the mountain gorillas, this might lead to the extinction of these peaceful creatures. This is an additional risk to all the threats this species has.
Over the last 30 years the number of mountain gorillas has grown by 40% and today there are 1065 gorillas. All other great apes show declining populations due to habitat loss, poaching and diseases.
Mountain gorilla conservation work has been successful thanks to ranger-based patrolling, transboundary collaboration, emergency treatment of sick and injured gorillas and involvement of local communities in gorilla tourism. Revenues from gorilla tourism play a central role in this work as it provides income to people where the option might be illegal activities like poaching. Incomes now gone due to the close down of tourism.
The recent gains in mountain gorilla numbers could rapidly reverse if this virus is introduced into their population by conservation staff, park guards or others who come in close contact with the gorillas, so urgent and sustained protection measures are key.
WWF play a unique role in the conservation of the mountain gorillas, as we work on site as a part of a unique coalition of international conservation organizations called International Gorilla Conservation Program, IGCP (www.igcp.org). IGCP is joining forces with national and local partners to ensure the survival of the endangered mountain gorillas. The transboundary approach is important for delivering “seamless” strategic, long-term conservation across borders for a species living in a forest ecosystem that crosses national boundaries of three countries.
The goal of this project is to build a conservation model that eliminates the risk of transmission of covid-19 to the mountain gorillas through minimizing transmission among people; park guards, conservation staff and villagers that might come in contact with the mountain gorillas. It will also reduce the risk of virus transmission among people in already vulnerable communities. This is now a new area that we have to consider in the conservation work to secure the long-term survival and growth of the mountain gorillas population.
The work has started and with additional financial support we will be able to scale up this work and expand it to cover other staff and target villages in the buffer zone around the national park.
Target groups for the initiative
Park guards, other staff, and their families as well as villagers living in the villages bordering the gorilla forest
Type of activities
– Create quarantine stations for park guards on duty
– Supply face masks and hand disinfection to all working with conservation
– Provide villages with washing stations for hand hygiene and health screening
– Training in hygiene to avoid disease transmission
– Health screening for park guards and villagers to catch early signs of infection carriers
- Raising capital
What we need help with
WWF is seeking financial support for increased costs that the covid-19 pandemic has incurred, to be able to deliver safe conservation work for the mountain gorillas. These increased costs are for quarantine stations, protection equipment like face masks and hand disinfection, washing stations, health screening of staff and villagers, and training in hygiene to avoid disease transmission. WWF has initiated the work on helping the park guards who work directly with the gorillas by providing food rations, starting to build quarantine stations, supply face masks and carry out daily health screening of the park guards. This is an acute situation created by the global pandemic and the assessment is that this effort will last for 2 years with an annual budget of SEK 2 million.
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