Conservation amidst COVID-19: What’s going on?

Last Updated: 11-17-2020 9:32 AM

These are quite uncertain times for all of us, but together we are stronger. The Orangutan Conservancy wants you to rest assured that we are doing everything in our power to stay up to date on all pertinent information, specifically regarding COVID-19 and conservation efforts around the world.

Where did COVID-19 come from?  

This question has produced a lot of misinformation, and we want to help set the record straight with info from our friends at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Global Wildlife Conservation.  

  • The cause of COVID-19 is by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. These coronaviruses are often found in humans, along with various animal species. – CDC
  • “Coronaviruses are a group of viruses with exceptionally high mutation rates…The viruses that caused the outbreaks of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) from 2002-2004 are categorized as coronaviruses.” – Mongabay
  • The exact source of the novel coronavirus is still unknown, researchers believe that there was a “…single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal reservoir” – CDC
  • Wildlife and meat trading markets create perfect breeding grounds for this novel pathogen

What can we do to help?

The most important thing we can do right now is to join WCS and Global Wildlife Conservation in calling for a permanent ban on wildlife trafficking and live animal markets! Take a look at their cheat sheet:

WCS Infographic - Graphic design: Sarah Markes/WCS
  1. Stop wildlife trade
  2. Stop wildlife consumption
  3. Stop destroying nature.

Are great apes and other primates susceptible to COVID-19?

The great apes, our closest living relatives, are one of our primary concerns during this pandemic. Strict precautionary measures are already being put in place at a number of field sites even though it is unknown if this specific virus can be transmitted to the great apes. Here is what we know so far: 

  • Research on SARS-CoV-2 in animals and NHP is very limited
  • Currently, there is no data supporting the claim that COVID-19 can be transmitted from humans to great apes (Gorilla DoctorsJane Goodall Institute, AZA) – *it is important to note that there are currently NO studies examining this
  • Recent research has found that SARS-COV-2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19 was linked to pneumonia in Rhesus macaques
  • previous & different coronavirus (HCoV) OC43, known to cause the common cold in humans, was transmitted to chimpanzees and caused an outbreak in the Taï National Park, Côte d´Ivoire population.


  • July 2020: A study published in Communications Biology argues that apes, African and Asian monkeys, and some lemur species may be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, which leads to the potentially fatal COVID-19 disease. Researchers base this argument off the fact that all apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and bonobos), and the Catarrhine (Asian and African monkeys) primates exhibit the same host cell receptor for the virus as humans. This makes these species much more susceptible to the virus and it makes lemur species who are closer in genetic relation to the African/Asian Apes and Monkeys more susceptible as well. (Melin et al., 2020)

How are Conservation Organizations Responding?

Orangutan Care Centers

In an effort to prioritize the health and safety of the orangutans and other animals in their care, all rehabilitation centers in both Indonesia and Malaysia have been closed to the public and visitors. In addition, strong checks are bring put in place to test all employees for the virus. 

OVAG Provides Assistance

The Orangutan Veterinary Advisory Group has been circulating all pertinent information to all associated rescue, rehabilitation, and care centers. The OVAG committee members are hard at work creating a collective statement with helpful protocols that should be able to assist the centers. 

Eco-Tourism Response:

As you can probably deduce, it is more important than ever to take every precaution necessary to protect our great ape relatives. The Gorilla Doctors are reminding the public of their strict health precautions for those visiting the mountain gorillas in Uganda. These precautions, although developed for Mountain Gorilla Tourism, serve as a smart and intuitive guide:

  1. Follow tourism rules: maintain a distance of at least 7 meters (21 feet) from gorillas at all times. If the gorillas move closer to you, follow your guide’s instructions to move away. We understand the desire for closeness and even contact with these extraordinary animals, but even if you do not feel sick, it is possible you are carrying a virus or bacteria without exhibiting symptoms, so any contact could place the gorillas at risk.
  2. If you or anyone with you is sick (e.g. coughing, sneezing, feverish, suffering a sore throat) do not put the gorillas at risk by visiting them.
  3. If you have to sneeze or cough while in the presence of gorillas (even if wearing a mask), cover your mouth and nose with the crook of your elbow; do not use your hands. If you must use your hands, carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you to disinfect immediately after.


  • As of March 20, 2020, the Gorilla Doctors released this statement on Instagram:

We are pleased to share that as part of its efforts to protect mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, which may be susceptible to COVID-19, the Rwandan government has announced the suspension of tourism and research in Volcanoes, Nyungwe and Gishwati-Murkura National Parks. We are working closely with the government and other conservation partners to monitor the situation and are continuing daily checks on the gorillas to ensure their overall health and safety.

The Gorilla Doctors

The Orangutan Conservancy’s Response

Early into the COVID-19 pandemic, The Orangutan Conservancy opened up a donation page specifically to help aid and support orangutan rescue and care centers that were being devastated by the ongoing pandemic.

In July 2020, OC opened up a funding application to aid in projects that have been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals and organizations that fell under OC’s normal eligibility guidelines were invited to apply for emergency relief funding.

You can read about the OC funded projects below:

 COVID-19 Resources

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Last year, The Orangutan Conservancy provided funding for Sintang Orangutan Center (SOC) to purchase an X-ray machine for their clinic and rehabilitation center in West Kalimantan.
Last year, The Orangutan Conservancy provided funding for Sintang Orangutan Center (SOC) to purchase an X-ray machine for their clinic and rehabilitation center in West Kalimantan.

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