Reacting to COVID-19: How JGI is responding
Written By: Hanna Smit, JGI Canada
Category: From The Field, Great Apes
As the world continues to react and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, JGI chapters around the world have adjusted to working remotely and taken extensive measures to ensure the protection of staff, community partners and chimpanzees. Find out how our conservation initiatives have responded to the state of current affairs and continue to focus on protecting wildlife and empowering people.
Chimpanzees and COVID-19
Past outbreaks of respiratory illnesses in great ape communities have been proven to originate from human contact. International wildlife health specialists suggest that we should assume all great apes – chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and gorillas – are susceptible to the SARS COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease in people.
While there is no scientific evidence of any transmission or infection with this particular coronavirus in great apes, international JGI teams are enforcing updated guidelines from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in order to minimize direct and indirect contact between great apes and people.
At Tchimpounga sanctuary and island rehabilitation sites, the JGI Congo team has been enforcing hygiene protocols to protect staff, chimpanzees and wildlife in the Tchimpounga Nature Reserve. These protocols include:
- Daily health and body temperature checks for resident staff, as well as for all staff upon arrival and for all park rangers prior to circulation in the Tchimpounga Nature Reserve.
- Staff disinfect footwear, wear face masks and attend sensitisation events.
- Chimpanzees with underlying health conditions are placed in standard quarantine.
These procedures are enforced in addition to the standard practices already in place, such as restricted public access to the sanctuary and reduced physical contact with chimpanzees where possible.
While there are no current restrictions on travel and transport, the JGI Congo team has already taken necessary precautions, including purchasing and storing extra medications, veterinary supplies, food and fuel in case the sanctuary and islands are put in isolation.
Gombe Stream Research Centre
While tourists usually access the Gombe Stream National Park, the Government of Tanzania has recently suspended all incoming passenger flights, essentially closing the local tourism sector. This has reduced the number of visitors to Gombe, where under normal circumstances visitors are obliged to wear masks and maintain a distance of at least seven metres from the chimpanzees.
JGI’s research of wild chimpanzees is ongoing, however the team has been reduced to the essential staff needed to maintain health monitoring and observations of different chimp communities. Because chimpanzees and humans are so closely related, continuing to follow chimpanzees in the forest does increase the risks of disease transmission for both animals and scientists. Therefore, the top priority is to access testing kits for the remaining team of researchers in order to ascertain their condition and guarantee that they will not pose a risk to the chimpanzees they observe. The staff are in constant contact with local authorities and the Tanzanian National Parks Authority (TANAPA) in order to follow the necessary guidelines.
Delivering Healthy Futures
Increasingly, cases of COVID-19 are being recorded on the African continent. JGI’s community-centred conservation projects have responded accordingly in order to safeguard both our community partners and the chimpanzees that live near them. The Democratic Republic of Congo, where the Delivering Healthy Futures project is located, has several confirmed cases and the government has implemented restrictions on the movement of people to reduce the spread of the virus. Handwashing stations have been set up in strategic places in the city of Goma, as well as health monitoring that includes temperature screening at the borders. After discussions with our field staff, we have confirmed the suspension of all activities in order to respect physical distancing.
In a country still dealing with an Ebola outbreak, the Delivering Healthy Futures project has already sensitized communities on the danger of bush meat consumption and its link to spreading viruses that can jump across species, from animals to humans. Moving forward, communicating similar messages around COVID-19 and the link to wildlife protection will be considered for local communities.