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SAVING UGANDA’S ENDANGERED MOUNTAIN GORILLAS AGAINST COVID 19 PANDEMIC

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site, and home to an estimated half of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas. Located in south-western Uganda, and is known for its exceptional biodiversity.

The forest is very significant as a home to almost half of the world’s remaining population of endangered mountain gorillas. The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), a parastatal authority of the government, manages the park.

Mountain gorilla ecotourism contributes 50% of revenue for Uganda Wildlife Authority and is one of the premier tourism activities in East Africa. The African parks in which great ape tourism exists and all-mountain gorilla sites like BINP were closed fairly quickly, spurred by advice regarding primates’ susceptibility to the coronavirus.

A notice from the IUCN’s specialist groups on wildlife health and on primates said: “At this point, it is safest to assume that great apes are susceptible to SARS CoV-2 infection.” They advised keeping contact with great apes to an absolute minimum. That means tourism will be extremely risky until the pandemic is fully controlled.

Revenue from gorilla tourism is used to protect and enhance the conservation status of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest through funding tourism, law enforcement, community conservation, wildlife monitoring, and research activities. If lockdowns persist for months, the consequences could be devastating for fragile gorilla populations and the communities that surround them.

The Bwindi gorilla population could be wiped out by a highly infectious disease like COVID-19 and it could easily spread between families when gorillas fight or transfer to another group.

Further, there may be an increase in poaching, the live animal trade, and encroachment, along with infrastructure breaking down and patrol cars not being maintained. There is a risk that we will lose great apes when law enforcement operations are suspended. Even apes that survive now face an added risk: coming in contact with hunters means a risk of being infected with COVID-19.

The absence of tourists on daily treks and the rangers who monitor the gorillas will make poaching in the national parks easier. It also makes it more likely. People, driven primarily by the need to feed themselves in the absence of tourism income, will take advantage of the sudden lack of footfall in the forests.

In this project, we will address threats of disease including COVID 19, Poaching, high human population growth, and human and wildlife conflict. Maintaining healthy gorillas, also as a flagship species, is critical for the conservation of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and reducing poaching and poverty in the surrounding local communities.

Reducing human and gorilla conflict is also critical in protecting gorillas and minimizing negative community attitudes to gorillas and forest conservation.

Use of Proceeds

This project will directly address gorilla conservation by reducing the risk of cross-species disease spread between overlapping populations of gorillas and humans. By implementing measures for protecting mountain gorillas from the threat of SARS CoV-2, considered a threat to gorillas and ensuring rangers still on duty strictly adhere to tourism and great ape health protection best practices in this pandemic times.

Additional protective measures shall include all park staff wearing masks during routine patrols, daily temperature checks of all rangers before entering the park, Maintaining a minimum distance of 10m when monitoring, Hand-washing, and the use of hand sanitizers, Boot disinfection points installed.

In addition to helping enforce these safety measures.

This will inform timely interventions that could prevent and control potentially fatal disease outbreaks. Gorilla conservation will be achieved through improved gorilla health, which could positively impact their population.

Direct response interventions will include efforts to directly prevent the spread of COVID-19, provision of healthcare support to those affected like hygiene/WASH projects which prevent transmission of the virus in underserved communities bordering the park.

Provision of masks, Personal Protection Equipment to rangers still on duty, and community healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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