COVID-19 AND AFRICA’S GREAT APES: Challenges, Threats Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic for Sustaining Conservation through Responsible Great Ape Tourism

In collaboration with ACBA, IGCP and CTPH developed a policy brief targeting government, donors and tour operators highlighting the threats to Africa’s great apes including bonobos, chimpanzees and gorillas. On top of poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation and wildlife trafficking, the emergence of the highly-infectious COVID-19 disease also presents great apes with a new threat additional to those posed by pre-existing transmissible human diseases.

Ahead of the Policy brief launch, CTPH Founder and CEO, Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka said “this is an opportunity for all countries in Africa to adopt responsible tourism to the great apes and achieve the same gains in gorilla conservation as Uganda and Rwanda have over the past three decades”

The purpose of the policy brief is to raise awareness about the key threats facing great apes in Africa and the critical need to protect them especially now during the  COVID-19 Pandemic with the overall aim of promoting responsible tourism to great apes. Here below we share key highlights from the policy brief:

The Challenge

Africa’s great apes: bonobos, chimpanzees and gorillas face grave and growing threats including poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation and wildlife trafficking. The emergence of the highly infectious COVID-19 disease also presents great apes with a new threat additional to those posed by pre-existing transmissible human diseases. Rangers, guides, porters, researchers, trackers, tourists and surrounding communities co-exist on the same land with habituated great apes and can transmit diseases to each other when they come into close proximity.


Great Ape tourism is active at 33 sites in 13 countries across west, central and east Africa (Cameroun, Central African Republic, DR Congo, Gabon, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda), involving seven species/populations (Mountain Gorillas, Grauer’s Gorillas, Western Lowland Gorillas, Eastern Chimpanzees, Central Chimpanzee, Western Chimpanzees and Bonobo). For further details on these locations and populations see the addendum to this policy brief.


Great ape tourism generates revenue that contributes significantly to national economies and community development with as much as 60% being allocated to wildlife management in the case of Uganda. Both the survival of great apes, and all these benefits to livelihoods and economies are at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


There is, therefore, great urgency for African governments to enforce best practices strictly and consistently in great ape tourism to protect and manage the health of endangered and critically endangered populations of great apes. A One Health approach enables this to be done at the same time as optimizing the benefits of tourism, especially to local communities, through people-centred and nature-positive approaches.


Key Messages


  • African governments, donors and tour operators need to establish and/or strengthen measures that minimize the risks of infection and other related threats to the survival of great apes.
  • Responsible tourism using a One Health approach can help minimise the trade-offs between economic motives and great ape conservation.
  • Community-based long-term nature-based and nature-compatible enterprises at great ape sites should be supported by governments, donors, and tour operators to promote diversified income generation to reduce direct dependence on great ape tourism


Key Threats

  • Infectious Disease Susceptibility
  • Inappropriate tourism marketing increases potential risky behaviours instead of reinforcing risk mitigation
  • Lack of awareness or limited knowledge of great ape tourism rules puts great apes at risk from contagious human diseases
  • Inadequate capacity to manage disease outbreaks
  • Climate, economic and social vulnerability



Evidence clearly shows that great apes can and do contract human respiratory infections. With the current availability of effective vaccines against COVID-19 that prevent severe disease, there is an urgent need to further protect great apes from infection by making vaccines available to people interacting closely or sharing a habitat with them and ensure the promotion and circulation of information about vaccines with culturally appropriate messages to combat vaccine misinformation and vaccine hesitancy. Such target people include park staff, conservation and tourism personnel, local communities, and tourists.


Even after the current COVID-19 pandemic has been fully brought under control, these recommendations should continue to be enforced to protect great apes and the tourism industry, against other respiratory viruses, emerging zoonotic diseases and future pandemics.


An integrated ‘One Health’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to protect great apes and other wildlife whilst safeguarding the communities with whom they share their habitats, now and in the future.


The full version of the policy brief can be accessed at The policy brief will be launched on 19th July 2022 at 4:00 PM CAT during the IUCN APAC in Kigali, Rwanda. Follow the discussion on social media #APAC2022 #Future4GreatApes #OneHealth

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