Your first hike through the lush forest, entrance to a clearing, and face to face encounter a family of Mountain Gorillas in the wild, should be life experience enough for anyone. But in these days of social media, it may not be — we need selfies as well.
It may be such selfies of friends or celebrities with cute young gorillas or powerful adults, that drew you to Uganda, Rwanda or the DRC in the first place. The experience is indeed profound and worthy of sharing. But what of the risks to these endangered magnificent primates in these crazy Covid times?
An exhaustive study of gorilla tracking selfies posted on Instagram explores past and present protocols — mask wearing and distancing — and their potential dangers to gorillas if relaxed or ignored. It is a well-documented warning that should ring true to we who, over the last year, have learned the fatal risks of airborne disease transmission, and who cherish the wonder of observing gorillas in their natural habitat. They are vulnerable.
But those darn silverbacks still refuse to wear masks. It’s up to wildlife authorities to implement rules to keep animals safe, if governments want to keep reaping the millions of dollars that gorilla tourism attracts through our desire to feel gorillas up close. Selfies, putting people in unsafe proximity to animals, is identified as a growing problem. The study contends that our impulse to share these magic moments on social media must be restrained, or this viral pandemic may claim further victims.
photo from Bwindi NP by Marcus Westberg