Forum > Eco-tour > virus from human tourists harm gorillas and chimpanzees

Posted by Susan Sharma on February 04, 2008

 

Ecotourism- Impact on wildlife

The latest environmental issue attributed to eco-tourists is a massive threat to an already endangered species. It appears that the tourists may be passing potentially deadly diseases to the great apes they spend so much money to view in the wild.

Every year the economies of African nations receive a boost from wealthy tourists willing to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars for the chance to get up close and personal with majestic gorillas and chimpanzees. But new evidence has come to light suggesting that humans are infecting the apes with deadly respiratory viruses.

The first direct evidence linking human contact to disease deaths of great apes was found in the Ivory Coast. Chimpanzees at the West African nation’s Tai chimpanzee research station were killed by human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) and human metapneumovirus (HMPV).

This throws a wrench into the eco-tourism equation. Tourist money has undoubtedly had a positive impact on both the economies of desperately poor African nations and the situation of endangered great apes. Eco-tourism helps fund conservation projects and has reduced poaching by making the animals more valuable alive and in their natural habitat than they would be dead. However, an outbreak of a virus carried by an unwitting eco-tourist could potentially wipe out an entire community of apes, which could drive the endangered species toward extinction.

Scientists have proposed that all humans in close contact with the animals be forced to wear a mask. The mask rule would have to apply to all eco-tourists, as most people would be completely unaware that they were carrying a deadly virus. The viruses generally have no symptoms in humans. Conservationists also want to increase the distance that must be kept between human and ape. Currently, tourists must stand at least seven metres from the animals, but there are calls to increase that to 10 metres.

Source: Guardian Unlimited
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/feb/03/conservation.endangeredspecies?gusrc=rss&feed=environment

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