Fears gorillas will be wiped out by coronavirus over links to human DNA

Gorillas are at risk of being wiped out by the coronavirus, conservationists have warned.

Almost half of the world’s mountain gorilla population – approximately 450 of them – can be found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

They regularly come across tourists, villagers and conservationists.

Veterinarian Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka told CBC News: "We share over 98% genetic material and can easily make each other sick.

"If Covid-19 was to get into the gorillas, of course, they can't social distance, the whole group would be wiped out."

Hunting almost exterminated gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but wildlife experts have helped get their numbers back to over 1,000.

Last month, a study found that critically endangered species such as the Sumatran orangutan and the western lowland gorilla are particularly at risk of Covid-19, owing to their genetic similarities with humans.

Study leader Harris Lewis, from the University of California, told National Geographic: “The potential for Covid-like disease outbreak in either captive or wild populations of endangered primates is pretty high.”

He said that rare animals in captive settings were particularly at risk.

Back in April, gorilla tourism in Africa was suspended.

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Public access to many other animal sanctuaries, such as Borneo’s Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, has also been restricted.

Susan Sheward, founder and chair of Orangutan Appeal UK, released a statement which said: "This disease could be fatal for the already critically endangered orangutan, it is a risk that we cannot afford to take.

"OAUK will do everything it can to make sure that the orangutans at Sepilok stay healthy and safe."

The coronavirus has already been identified in dogs, cats, lions, tigers and minks.

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