As the emerging SARS CoV-2 virus (causing COVID-19 disease in humans) spread and declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation, there was an expression of concern by conservation organizations and conservation institutions of the potential impact of this disease on captive and wild great apes
It is not yet known if great apes are susceptible to SARS CoV-2. However, there is abundant scientific evidence that great apes are susceptible to infection with human respiratory pathogens. At this point, it is safest to assume that great apes are susceptible to SARS CoV-2 infection
Development of a Regional Contingency Plan
The Greater Virunga Landscape is one of the most biodiverse landscapes in the World, if not the most biodiverse. Containing two UNESCO Biosphere Reserves sites (Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda and Queen Elizabeth National Park Uganda). Virunga National Park forms the backbone of this landscape and connects to the Volcanoes Park in Rwanda together with the Mgahinga Gorilla, Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains, and Semuliki National Parks in Uganda. The transboundary collaboration in the Greater Virunga Landscape was the transboundary population of mountain gorillas in the 451 km2 Virunga Massif which straddles the border of DRC, Rwanda and Uganda.
Risk to mountain gorillas is being mitigated by range States through the suspension of tourism, controlled movement of personnel, and the heightened vigilance to the best practice guidelines for visitation as well as health monitoring. Spearheaded by the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration, a regional emergent coronavirus contingency plan is being developed with the support of IGCP, Gorilla Doctors and other partners.
This plan, based on a previously developed Ebola Virus Disease contingency plan, is a framework for coordinating action by Protected Area Authorities in mountain gorilla range States, as well as sharing resources and information, aims at "protecting mountain gorillas, conservation personnel, tourists and park adjacent communities from SARS CoV-2, the emergent coronavirus that causes the human disease COVID-19." Development of the plan is expected to enhance regional cooperation in the preparedness and response to COVID-19. The plan which is expected to be completed by June 2020 will be regularly updated with the most recent understanding of the virus and its spread, advancements in testing and/or vaccination, and prevention measures.
Partners and Coordination
The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) is a coalition programme of Conservation International, Fauna & Flora International and WWF. IGCP is a Node in the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resources Management in Rwanda. IGCP will serve as lead administrator for the financial support provided by UNESCO, in support to the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) in line with an MoU between the two institutions. Gorilla Doctors, also in partnership with GVTC, will provide critical health technical support to the further development of the contingency plan, as well as play a direct support role to the Protected Area Authorities in its implementation.
Additional partners include The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, and Conservation Through Public Health, in addition to local authorities and community-based organizations as part of a larger network. IGCP will contract consultants to develop the web based platform, translate tools and resources relevant messages into popular languages for dissemination among the target users.
The signing of the Treaty on the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration on Wildlife Conservation and Tourism Development in 2015, sets out the intent and structures through with the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Rwanda, and Republic of Uganda coordinate their efforts toward shared objectives.
UNESCO support toward the political processes which will enable the validation and endorsement of the contingency plan, and its implementation, will be most welcome toward achieving the objective of this proposed project.