At the Bronx Zoo, a 4-year-old female tiger was confirmed as being infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the beginning of April. Five more big cats showed the same symptoms consistent with the virus. The source was tracked to veterinarians taking care of them. Now, the new coronavirus affects primates.
The Bronx Zoo shelters over 4,500 animals of 650 different species. According to Express UK, the virus imposes fear of spreading to great apes, such as gorillas and chimpanzees. The warning comes from the leading conservationist and chairman of the Ape Alliance, Ian Redmond, and the main reasons to justify the concern are three.
The first reason is Nadia, the tiger that confirmed the coronavirus being transmissible from humans to animals. The second reason is that the great apes such as gorillas and orangutans have a much too similar DNA to humans, 97 to 99% similarities. COVID-19 targeting the same antibodies to humans make primates an easy target.
Primates suffer from the new coronavirus
Third, comes history. Viruses such as Ebola and HIV proved to be transmissible from humans to apes and vice versa. HIV is believed to be originated in primates. “There is abundant scientific evidence that great apes are susceptible to infection with human respiratory pathogens. Therefore, the great apes are highly likely to be susceptible to infection, and possibly with a higher mortality rate than among humans,” said Redmond.
The fear of high mortality makes the concern be od catastrophic size, especially since the gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos are social animals living in groups. Also, chimpanzees are an endangered species.
“Chimpanzees numbers have dropped from probably closer to two million down to three hundred thousand at most. And that spread stretched over 21 countries, and many of them are in tiny groups that already would be hard to survive,” said Jane Goodall, a chimpanzee expert.
As a consequence, recommendations have been made. Significant ape tourism was suspended. The research was minimized. People working with primates should maintain social distance just as they would with people, during the new coronavirus outbreak.