Protecting great apes from disease: compliance with measures to reduce anthroponotic disease transmission.

Published online
24 Nov 2022
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

Nuno, A. & Chesney, C. & Wellbelove, M. & Bersacola, E. & Kalema-Zikusoka, G. & Leendertz, F. & Webber, A. D. & Hockings, K. J.
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The emergence of infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, impacts livelihood strategies and conservation tools reliant on human-wildlife interactions, such as wildlife-based tourism and research. This is particularly relevant to great ape conservation, as humans and great apes are susceptible to being infected by similar pathogens. Evidence-based strategies are required to prevent infectious disease transmission to great apes and people involved in, or living close to, tourism sites. The development of disease-safe recommendations and their effective operationalisation require an understanding of what affects visitor compliance. Based on an international sample of past (N = 420) and potential future visitors (N = 569) to wild great ape tourism sites in Africa, we used an online questionnaire to characterise visitors' practices, assess expectations (e.g. about proximity to great apes) and identify key factors related to potential compliance with disease mitigation measures. This was implemented adapting a framework from health literature (the Health Belief Model; HBM), particularly focused on reducing COVID-19 transmission at an early stage of the pandemic. Visitors expressed less willingness to being vaccinated against COVID-19 (which, at the time our survey was conducted, had only just started being administered to very high-risk groups), wearing a facemask during trekking (although willing when viewing the apes) and quarantine after international travel before visiting great apes. Region of nationality, expectations about the visitor experience and perceived effectiveness of specific measures were important factors explaining variation in potential compliance across multiple behaviours. By gaining a better understanding of what fosters compliance with disease mitigation measures, we obtained insights that are essential for assessing feasibility, facilitating effective communication, and guiding implementation at great ape tourism sites with importance not only for COVID-19 but also for other infectious diseases more broadly, particularly at early stages of future pandemics. While requiring adaptive management as situations evolve (e.g. vaccination becoming more widely accessible), these will contribute towards a more sustainable visitor experience that can effectively deliver positive outcomes for people and biodiversity.

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