Great news: the three Covid-infected gorillas at the San Diego Zoo have fully recovered. They showed only light symptoms — cough and lack of energy — during sickness but with this naughty virus you really never know…
Last week we updated you on how gorilla tracking has been made safe for the animals in the pandemic, through a field report by ranger Emma. In our Weekly Companion we further highlighted the fact that protective masks have been worn in Congolese national parks for a decade, and that they are likely to stay in Rwanda and Uganda after the pandemic.
Today we are adding some information on who takes care of gorilla health — and how important it is for the economy to keep mountain gorillas thriving.
First of all, you should imagine the Virunga volcanoes and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest as two islands of biodiversity that are monitored relentlessly. Sure, they are surrounded by human populations of three different nationalities who pose a threat to national parks due to their poverty. But they are also protected by well-equipped and well-trained rangers and hi-tech international teams. There is no fence, but there is a watchful eye.
Spearheading the medical side of it all is Gorilla Doctors [external link], an American non-profit whose boots on the ground are experienced local and foreign veterinarians. If there is an emergency, they will intervene. With mountain gorillas counting about 1,000 individuals within two relatively small areas and genetically very close to humans, it wouldn’t take much for a catastrophe. (Yes, one that could begin with a tourist’s running nose.)
National governments have a motivation to protect gorillas that goes further than “conserving for future generations” (as the Ugandan slogan goes). In short, there is some serious money involved.
An example: for 2018 Rwanda reported USD 20 million earned from gorilla permits. The earning potential is more than double that. Out of the 20 groups Emma mentioned, 12 are actually visited by travellers. In a normal year, that would be a up to 8 people per gorilla group per day who pay 1,500 dollars for the privilege. The daily maximum intake is USD 144,000 and that comes to USD 52,560,000 per year. Of course, Rwanda doesn’t get exactly 1,500 dollars per permit (agents have commissions and discounts), but we also need to consider the extra money that tourism pumps into the economy through accommodation, transport and so on.
In short, decent financial incentives and world-class medical care boost our gorillas’ chances of survival, so there is no wonder their numbers are growing. But a year of Covid shakes it all up in a rather dramatic way. The health implications of the pandemic have been dealt with — unlike in San Diego, there will be no infected caretaker coming anywhere near the animals. The financial outage is something else entirely — and a responsible tourist might consider paying a visit now, when it matters most…
Have you heard of all the discounts in Rwanda and Uganda?
photos courtesy of Gorilla Doctors