Tourists risking lives of wild orangutans for Instagram selfies

Tourists cosying up to wild orangutans for selfies in Indonesia risk giving the primates COVID, experts warn

  • Experts warn tourists are risking the lives of endangered apes to take selfies
  • Researchers found trekkers breaking 10 metre rule to pose with orangutans
  • Humans can transmit Covid to the apes, which can prompt deadly infections
  • Conservation biologist Andrea Molyneaux says evidence ‘extremely concerning’

Tourists are risking the lives of critically endangered orangutans by cosying up for Instagram selfies, experts have warned.

A team of researchers examining social media pictures found jungle trekkers visiting Indonesia were breaching national park rules of maintaining a 10 metre distance, posing for selfies and even stroking the endangered apes.

The activities expose orangutans to human viruses, including Covid, which can prompt deadly infections.

A research paper, published on Monday, identified ‘substantial potential for disease transmission’ between people and the orangutans they are visiting at Mount Leuser National Park.

A team of experts found tourists are risking the lives of critically endangered orangutans for Instagram selfies

Jungle trekkers were found to have breached 10 metre rules to pose for selfies and stroke the endangered apes

Andrea Molyneaux, a conservation biologist based in North Sumatra and lead author of the paper, said: ‘The risk of zoonotic disease transmission between visitors and orangutans is extremely concerning. 

‘There are national park rules that inform visitors of the risks but our results indicate that tourists may not be aware of them. There appears to be apathy within the wider conservation community to promote awareness of these rules. 

‘We desperately need to promote awareness of these rules so visitors know they must not get close to or feed orangutans.’

Orangutans are found on only two islands, Sumatra and Borneo, and all three species are currently listed as critically endangered.

The team of experts, which included researchers from Oxford Brookes University, also highlighted poor compliance with rules at Gunung Leuser National Park in North Sumatra, Indonesia.

Emma Hankinson, Ecologist and PhD student at Oxford Brookes, said: ‘In the photos we analysed we saw tourists touching, patting, cuddling, feeding and getting very close to orangutans for selfies. 

‘I have worked extensively in Sumatra and have witnessed such behaviours first hand. There is a substantial potential for disease transmission between people and the orangutans they visit.

‘The Covid-19 pandemic has increased people’s awareness of disease risk and we hope this may have positive impacts on the behaviour of visitors to the Gunung Leuser National Park and other great ape tourism sites, making them more likely to comply with the rules.’

Members of the gorilla troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, pictured, tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2coronavirus which causes the Covid-19 disease, in January

It follows three lowland gorillas testing positive for Covid at San Diego Zoo in January.

Four orangutans and give bonobos at the same zoo were also given a Covid jab.

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