Endangered mountain gorillas that live on reserves in the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda now have one more thing to worry about, ‘Gorilla Selfies’ for Instagram.
Recently, 11 gorillas in Rwanada were infected by the human metapneumovirus (a cold) which killed 2 of the animals.
Tourists excursions to see the primates are permitted in all three countries but visitors are only supposed to take pictures from a minimum of 23 feet away. Going closer than this proximity allows for the transfer of coughs, colds and respiratory infections which, if left untreated, have potential to kill gorillas.
A recent study by UK researchers uncovered 640 images on Instagram of people getting too close to the gorillas and even touching them.
Additionally, visitors in the DRC are required to wear face masks on the trips, a rule that Uganda is also set to soon begin enforcing. In the photos only 65% of tourists pictured in the DRC were wearing them.
Primate conservationist Gaspard van Hamme told the New Scientist that close encouters are most likely with young gorillas as they are more “inquisitive”.
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka at the Ugandan charity Conservation told the New Scientist that tourism needs to continue but the tour operators need to enforce the rules. Tourists have learned to give the tour guides larger tips if they can get them closer to the animals for that “perfect Instagram selfie”.
Researchers said people who care about gorillas would be willing to keep their distance and wear masks if they were properly educated on the reasons behind them.
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