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Selfie-obsessed tourists give gorillas their coughs and colds

Oct 29, 2019, 09.10 AM IST
A silverback mountain gorilla named Segasira walks in the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda AP
A gorilla (AP)
NEW DELHI: Ecotourists are getting too close to mountain gorillas, risking passing on potentially deadly human coughs and colds – and the proof is on Instagram.

A search of the social media site has turned up hundreds of shots of people standing closer than the recommended 7 metres away from the apes. Part of the problem is people seeking the perfect selfie to post online, says Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka at the Ugandan charity Conservation Through Public Health.

Often the close encounters are initiated by young gorillas. “Juvenile primates tend to be more inquisitive,” says Gaspard van Hamme at Oxford Brookes University, one of those who conducted the analysis. Mountain gorillas, which are found in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are classed as endangered, with just 1004 animals at the last count. Their numbers have been slowly rising since the 1980s, although outbreaks of respiratory infections have been increasing.

In one case in Rwanda, 11 out of 12 animals in a group had runny noses and were coughing and lethargic. Veterinarians managed to give antibiotics to five, but two untreated gorillas died. Post-mortems showed they were infected with a virus that normally affects people called human metapneumovirus.

All three countries permit treks into the forests to see the gorillas, but people are meant to keep at least 7 metres away. To see if the rules are being followed, van Hamme and his colleagues searched Instagram for pictures of people on treks since 2013.

Out of 643 photographs, nearly every one showed people closer than 7 metres and 20 showed physical contact. The tourism should continue, though, as it brings much needed money into conservation work, says Kalema-Zikusoka. It is up to tour sites to enforce the rules more strictly, says Fabian Leendertz at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin.

Content courtesy: New Scientist

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