COVID-19 in Gorillas

Category: Diseases

Rangers during hand disinfection at the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (© Gorilla Doctors)

Here we will try to answer some of your questions. Giving an answer can be difficult, because little or nothing is known about some things. But we do our best!

General information about zoonoses can be found here.

1. How dangerous is Covid-19 for gorillas?
Since only a few cases have so far come to light (see question 3), it is impossible to give an objective answer to this question. As a rule, the gorillas that contracted the virus experienced only mild symptoms and all of them survived.

2. Are gorillas being vaccinated against Covid-19?
As far as we know, no gorillas have been vaccinated so far. It is not clear whether vaccines that were developed for humans would also work for gorillas and whether the gorillas would tolerate them. Of course, it is impossible to carry out comprehensive studies involving thousands of gorilla subjects, as is required when developing new vaccines for humans. Vaccinating wild gorillas is theoretically possible, as long as they are habituated to humans. But, since it is not known whether they would tolerate the vaccines, it would be a risky procedure for animals that are critically endangered.

3. Have gorillas been infected?
Yes, gorillas have been infected in the zoos of San Diego and Prague. In both cases, the virus was transmitted via the animal keepers. You can find more information about this here

4. What protective measures are being taken?
Protected area staff coming into close contact with wild gorillas must follow strict hygiene rules (hand disinfection, protective masks, distancing). According to our information, these rules are also applied to tourists (who are allowed to visit the gorillas again at most sites). Strict hygiene rules must also be observed in zoos, although keeping your distance in the zoo is only possible to a limited extent.

5. Can the virus be transmitted from gorillas to humans?
No such case is known to date, but it is probably possible.

6. Has the vaccine been tested on primates?
Yes, at least two of the vaccines were tested on macaques. You will find more information on this here.

7. Is the Covid crisis positive or negative for the animals?
This is very difficult to answer as the pandemic has had many secondary effects – including impacting on people who generate their income from gorilla tourism. On the one hand, visitors – both locals and tourists – inevitably stress the gorillas to a certain extent and this stress was temporarily removed. On the other hand, illegal activities in protected areas have increased as a direct result of the pandemic, which not only creates stress for the gorillas, but also increases their exposure to risks such as snares. Moreover, protected areas cover part of their running costs with income generated from tourism, so there is a risk that the gorillas will not be so well protected if this revenue is lost. Overall, the negative effects probably outweigh any positive impacts. Read more here

If you have any further questions, please contact meder(at)