Can Gorillas catch our colds?
Ever dreamed of trekking into the mountains to come face to face with the magnificent Mountain Gorillas of the Congo? Yeah me too. Seeing a Gorilla at the zoo on a family trip out could never quite compare to seeing these apes in their natural habitat, surrounded by ancient jungle - it's a bucket list experience.
In fact, the idea of trekking into the jungle to see wild Gorillas proved so popular that Ecotourism evolved. In theory, wildlife enthusiasts everywhere will pay a local guide group to accompany them to be in with a shot of witnessing this wonder.
- Money and jobs for local people
- Protection for the Gorillas and less poaching
- Money towards conservation for the Gorillas
- We get to see Gorillas
It's a win win right? Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The longer time has gone on, the more studies have revealed that we may actually be doing more harm than good.
For a start, Gorillas have very close genetics to us and can pick up some of the same diseases as us (which isn't entirely surprising). Viruses, such as flu and Covid-19 are a big issue due to how they are transmitted. We are walking straight into the Gorillas habitat, potentially carrying illnesses that we are unaware of, and then passing onto a species that simply does not have the immunity or resistance to fight off even our common colds!
You may be thinking 'well, I wasn't planning on giving the Gorilla a hug or anything', and it's true that keeping a safe distance would help to prevent this. However, studies that interviewed tourists upon returning from their trek asked for estimated distance that they got to the Gorillas among other questions (Sandbrook and Semple, 2006). Worryingly, the majority seemed to say <5m (the guidelines state 7m maximum), with some even saying within a metre.
It's not always down to ignoring the rules:
- Big tour groups are hard for guides to keep together
- Gorillas may surround groups making retreating to safe distance hard
- Some tour guides may accept big tips to get them closer
- People are not always required to have up to date vaccines
All in all. Ecotourism has the potential to be a really great tool for conservation! I don't want this to sound all doom and gloom. However, from looking at the research, more guidelines and restrictions must be put in place to prevent us causing huge declines in the Mountain Gorilla population when it is already under threat.
Most importantly, I think people need to be aware of how susceptible Gorillas are to the same bugs as us and the devastating effect they could have by disregarding guidelines and rules to catch a glimpse of these beautiful beasts.
Let's raise awareness to keep them safe!