The park boasts over 700 rangers who care for both the animals and the park. While all the work they do is important, their conservation work with mountain gorillas in particular has been vital to the large mammal’s population which has seen them go from ‘critically endangered’ to ‘endangered’.
However, coronavirus has put a strain on the park’s resources, including the loss of revenue due to the closure of tourism activities, and hampered the park’s ability to protect the gorillas and other species that reside at Virunga causing a surge in poaching.
Teams at the park discovered baby gorilla Theodore caught in a snare within the park yesterday, July 12. With the help of the park’s rangers and a veterinary team, the snare was removed and it’s believed Theodore will make a full recovery.
Following the discovery of Theodore, Virunga National Park is now planning to undertake a large scale sweep of the park, in conjunction with the local communities, to locate and remove any snares and secure the habitats of the endangered mountain gorilla population and other wildlife.
In a statement to UNILAD, the park explained the difficulties it’s facing during the pandemic:
One of the current challenges facing the park, the local populations and the gorilla population is of course the impact of coronavirus. The park closed all tourism activities in March as a precaution to protect the gorilla population, but this meant the loss of 40% of the park’s overall revenue.
The lack of tourism and the squeeze on people’s livelihoods presents the threat of increased instability and the park is working tirelessly both to protect the gorilla population and the local communities and to continue making progress towards the goals of the Virunga Alliance, to create jobs and economic opportunities for local populations so that they too can benefit from the Park’s resources.
The Virunga Alliance is a public-private partnership based on the collaboration between civil society, public institutions and the private sector working together to achieve sustainable development goals in eastern Congo.
Part of the reason the park decided to temporarily close its doors was due to the gorillas’ health with concerns the large mammal could contract the virus themselves.
The park continued:
In terms of coronavirus and the gorillas, scientific knowledge is limited on COVID-19 as it is a novel virus, however, there is extensive documentation in the scientific literature of mountain gorillas and other great apes providing evidence of respiratory diseases that have been transmitted by human beings.
There have been known fatalities of mountain gorillas in other countries as a result of transmission of respiratory diseases from humans to gorillas, and as such Virunga National Park acted quickly to limit contact between humans and the mountain gorilla population.
We took the decision to close mountain gorilla tourism quickly once the threat of coronavirus emerged, despite major financial losses for the Park. Limiting human contact with the gorilla population is the best way to protect them from potential transmission of any diseases.
Hopefully the park will see its doors open again in the not so distant future for the sake of both the gorillas’ safety and the park’s income, as well as the incredible gorilla selfie opportunities.