20 Feb COVID-19: protect great apes during human pandemics
SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the current COVID-19 pandemic, is also a threat to our closest living relatives, the great apes. As leading experts in the conservation and health of these animals, we urge governments, conservation practitioners, researchers, tourism professionals and funding agencies to reduce the risk of introducing the virus into these endangered apes. They can do this by applying the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s best-practice guidelines for health monitoring and disease control in great-ape populations (see go.nature.com/3b1bq9k).
It is unknown whether the morbidity and mortality associated with SARS-CoV-2 in humans are similar in apes. However, transmission of even mild human pathogens to apes can lead to moderate-to-severe outcomes (L. V. Patrono et al. Emerg. Microbes Infect. 7, 1–4; 2018).
In the present situation, we recommend that great-ape tourism be suspended and field research reduced, subject to risk assessments to maximize conservation outcomes (for example, poaching could rise with fewer people in the vicinity). Such efforts should include ways to offset loss of earnings from tourism, while taking care not to interfere with work to save human lives.
Supplementary information to:
Great-ape health in human pandemics
List of co-signatories to a Correspondence published in Nature 579, 497 (2020)
The Great Ape Health Consortium
Steve Ahouka, Christelle-Patricia Lumbu Banza National Institute of Biomedical Research, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Marc Ancrenaz HUTAN — Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.
Richard Berg North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro, North Carolina, USA.
Sebastien Calvignac-Spencer, Ariane Düx, Jan F. Gogarten, Livia Victoria Patrono Robert Koch Institute, Berlin, Germany.
Emmanuel Couacy-Hymann One Health For All, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
Tobias Deschner, Martha Robbins, Roman Wittig Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.
Terence Fuh-Neba, WWF-CAR, Bayanga, Central African Republic.
Ilka Herbinger, WWF-Germany, Berlin, Germany.
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Conservation Through Public Health, Entebbe, Uganda.
Inza Kone Swiss Centre for Scientific Research in Côte d’Ivoire, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
Elizabeth V. Lonsdorf Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA.
Patrice Makouloutou Nzassi Institute for Tropical Ecology/National Scientific Research Centre, Libreville, Gabon.
Jane Raphael Tanzania National Parks, Arusha, Tanzania.
Deus Cyprian Mjungu Jane Goodall Institute Gombe Stream Research Centre, Kigoma, Tanzania.
Johannes Refisch United Nations Environment Programme Great Ape Survival Partnership, Nairobi, Kenya.
Innocent B. Rwego, Dominic Travis University of Minnesota, St Paul, Minnesota, USA.
Martin Surbeck Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Serge Wich Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK; and University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.