The Pandemic Impacts Captive and Wild Gorillas Alike, Infected or Not


Nathalia Becerra and Leslie Tello

Gorillas from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park were confirmed on January 11th to have COVID-19. Lisa Peterson, executive director of the zoo, stated, “Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well. The troop remains quarantined together and are eating and drinking. We are hopeful for a full recovery.”

Nathalia Becerra, Journalist

Gorillas in San Diego Zoo Safari Park tested positive for the coronavirus on January 11, 2021. This is one of the first known zoos to get animals infected. The veterinarians tested the gorillas because they started coughing on January 6, 2021.

Sophomore Hannah Ogundiran stated, “I think that gorillas getting corona is crazy and if people would stop going to places maybe they wouldn’t get corona. But, the zookeepers should seriously close the zoo if it’s open.”

The zoo has been closed since the 6th due to the California restrictions.

“Research studies have verified that some non-human primates are susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2, but this is the first known instance of natural transmission to great apes and it is unknown if they will have any serious reaction,” San Diego Zoo Global said.

The zoo officials believe that the gorillas somehow got infected by one of the staff members, even though the staff members wear protective gear around the gorillas. However, they tested the staff members and one of them was positive.

Freshman America Cisneros said, “I think it’s pretty upsetting how humans haven’t been able to overcome this pandemic and now gorillas got the virus.”

Veterinarians are closely watching over the gorillas. Until the gorillas get better, they will be feeding them vitamins, fluids and food. There is no special treatment for the virus involved.

Freshman Israel Thomas stated, “I think it’s bad if people keep going out because it caused gorillas to get COVID.”

According to Science Magazine, tourism was initially decreased during the pandemic to protect great apes in Africa and Asia. The decrease of tourism was good for gorillas because they would be protected from the virus. However, the article states, “But though tourism was initially banned at all ape refuges in Africa, some has resumed because the income is critical to the livelihood and health of people living nearby.” 

Although it protects some gorillas from COVID, the lack of tourism has increased the amount of poaching. This is because of the lack of income that comes from tourism. According to president and chief scientific officer at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Tara Stoinski, gorillas are not targeted by poachers but they can be caught in snares. She stated that her organization has removed twice as many snares in 2020 compared to the year prior.

The pandemic is also limiting the amount of gorilla research and protection. Stoinski said that while the Gorilla Fund is still collecting basic information on mountain gorillas, all long-term research is still halted. 

Additionally, Martha Robbins, a biologist and conservationist with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, has also had to temporarily stop data collection for a project of hers. However, scientists are taking precautions and are starting up again on a smaller scale.

There is a silver lining to the captive gorillas getting COVID. Disease ecologist Tony Goldberg stated that he believed that the gorillas would pull through with excellent medical care.

Stoinski stated, “Hopefully, these cases can provide some very valuable information on how gorillas respond to this virus so we can better understand the risk it poses to wild ape populations.”