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  • Friends of Bonobos

Eco-tourists Get Too Close to Wild Apes

Ever wanted to see a great ape up close? You’re not alone! That’s why eco-vacations are on the rise. People will hike miles through lush rainforests to see great apes in the wild.


The good news -- conservation efforts and local people get an economic boost from ape ecotourism. Up to 50,000 tourists travel to Uganda, Rwanda, and the DR Congo each year just to see gorillas, for example.

In the foreground, two people with their faces covered by large white circles (to protect identity). They are in a Ugandan rainforest. In the background are a troop of gorillas sitting under a small patch of trees.
A selfie on Instagram of a couple on a gorilla trekking trip.

The bad news? Folks have a hard time following the rules - rules meant to keep apes and humans from spreading respiratory diseases to one another.


It’s simple, stay 7 meters (23 feet) away and wear a mask. Regardless, people aren’t doing this, according to a recent study published in the journal People and Nature.


The researchers found hundreds of pictures on social media showing people standing really close to gorillas. Tourists tended to get closer to juvenile gorillas than adults, and women behaved worse than men around the juvenile gorillas.


Of the three countries studied, only in the DR Congo did photos show people wearing face masks, where 65% did. Overall, a mere 3% of photos showed tourists keeping the recommended distance.


Why is this a big deal?


Human-animal contact can result in the outbreak of new diseases like COVID-19. Because humans and great apes share a lot of DNA in common, it’s easy for viruses and bacteria to jump from one species to another. For apes on the brink of extinction, the consequences could be devastating. As ape tourism grows, trekking guides must be properly trained and prepared to enforce the health and safety rules.


So if you’re taking a “bucket-list” trip abroad to see some amazing apes in the wild, what should you do? Please, keep your distance! Wild animals are gorgeous; they don't belong in our arms.


Read the full study here.