Gorillas socially distancing prevents illness spreading, study finds

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As COVID-19 spread rapidly around the world, social distancing became an instant part of our daily routines – but a new study suggests it’s not just humans who survive coughs and colds by giving others a wide berth. could.

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Researchers working with wild mountain gorillas in Rwanda found that neighboring primate groups rarely mixed, so diseases that were easily passed between primate networks did not spread more widely.

Respiratory infections are one of the biggest threats to ape conservation: they can catch many of the same diseases as humans, and the common cold or flu can be fatal in these animals.

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Scientists from the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund studied 15 respiratory outbreaks between 2004 and 2020 to understand how diseases spread through populations of mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.

Close contact and strong social ties within gorilla groups meant respiratory diseases spread more rapidly among group members, they found.

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In one outbreak, it took only three days for 45 of the group’s 46 members to start coughing.

However, according to the study, the opportunities for transmission of infection between neighboring groups were limited.

Project co-author Yvonne Mushimeimana said: “The outbreaks we examined appeared to remain within a single group rather than spread across a wider population.

“Gorilla groups interact quite rarely, and when they do they keep their distance, rarely reaching within that critical one to two metres.”

The isolation of gorillas towards neighboring groups helped protect the wider population by limiting the widespread transmission of these infections.

So if gorilla groups weren’t infecting each other, where did these outbreaks come from? “Our best guess is that these infections in mountain gorillas are coming from humans,” said study lead author Dr Robin Morrison.

“This really highlights the importance of ongoing efforts to reduce wild great ape exposure to human diseases during activities such as research, tourism and conservation.

“Vaccination, wearing masks and maintaining adequate distance are all more important than ever in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Dr Tara Stoinsky, President and Chief Scientific Officer of the Fossey Fund, said: “The findings of this study suggest that since respiratory diseases spread quickly within gorilla groups and transmission between groups is much less common, strategies that may help prevent early transmission within the group. may be most effective.

“For COVID-19 and other human respiratory pathogens, this means preventing a disease from being transmitted from humans to gorillas in the first place.”

research is published in scientific report magazine.

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Credit: www.independent.co.uk /

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