Gone in a flash: Experts urge photographers to socially distance from gorillas

Written on 02/19/2021
Ciarán Mather

A group of UK researchers have advised people to avoid taking selfies with mountain gorillas in case they inadvertently spread COVID-19 to them.

The findings and subsequent pleas come from scientists from Oxford Brookes University in England, who studied over 800 Instagram posts from travellers between 2013 and 2019 getting up close with the endangered gorillas. 

Many of the posts were accompanied with hashtags such as #gorillatrekking and #gorillatracking.

Magdalena Svensson, a lecturer in biological anthropology at Oxford Brookes University, told CNN that it brings potential for disease transmission between people and the gorillas they visit.

She added: 'They're so genetically close to us they can get most of the things we can get,' referring to illnesses such as influenza, Ebola and the common cold.

Last month, eight western lowland gorillas living at San Diego Zoo were found to have COVID-19. 

Fortunately, all gorillas have since made a full recovery.

After analysing the pictures, they claimed to have found numerous instances of tourists getting close enough to the primates to spread diseases and viruses.

Gaspard Van Hamme, the study’s lead author, explained: 'The risk of disease transmission between visitors and gorillas is very concerning.'

Speaking on a possible solution to this problem, he advised: 'It is vital that we strengthen and enforce tour regulations to ensure gorilla trekking practices do not further threaten these already imperilled great apes.'

The findings have since been published in the journal People and Nature.

Despite their intimidating size and stature, gorillas are mostly peaceful creatures, and it would be a true shame to possibly transmit COVID-19 onto these animals due to pure recklessness.

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