Two infectious disease ecologists who specialize in disease transmission in great apes published a correspondence in the journal Nature, imploring governments and researchers to halt ecotourism and field work at sites where these species live. The article cites the 2016 discovery of a mild human coronavirus that caused respiratory symptoms circulating in a chimpanzee population . The article is co-signed by 18 other researchers who specialize in various aspects of ape management and health.
COVID19 has not been reported in a non-human great ape yet. However, humans are very closely related to other great apes (e.g. chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans), sharing between 96 and 98.6% of our genomes with these species. Numerous pathogens have trafficked and continue to be transmitted between humans and other apes. Moreover, the coronaviruses that cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) reliably infect rhesus and cynomolgus macaques, two primate species that share ~93% of their genomes with humans. These lesser related primates manifest SARS and MERS in a similar manner to humans. Combined, this data suggests SARS-CoV-2 is a risk to great ape populations.
JFB – March 25, 2020