With the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is yet again tested with a dangerous pathogen that has threatened not only human life, but also the primates. As we remain vulnerable to the unknown, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has moved to tighten regulations regarding tour and visitation of protected areas, more especially those habouring primates. A statement issued by Sam Mwandha the UWA executive director, tourism and research in all protected areas has been suspended until April 30. Additionally, filming of primates has been suspended as well as prohibiting motorcycles and bicycles from accessing protected areas. “These measures have implications on our tourism activities and earnings but are a necessary undertaking in order to protect and conserve our wildlife resources,” concludes the statement which was issued on Wednesday March 25.
Ngamba restricts visitations
Earlier, before UWA moved to tighten the grip, Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT) which manages Ngamba island, had issued a statement restricting all visitors from accessing the primates island which is found in lake Victoria. “All activities that involve contact with the chimpanzees have been suspended indefinitely. This includes behavioral training, direct feeding, behavioral research, volunteers, among others,” reads in part the statement.
Dorothy Basemera the guest relations officer at CSWCT said, only essential staff shall be maintained at the island and at head office in Entebbe. “This is to enable effective social distancing and to avoid exposing staff and partners to risk while commuting to and from the workplace. Non-essential staff will work remotely where possible or take paid leave,” she added.
According to Dr. Joshua Rukundo the executive director for Ngamba chimpanzee sanctuary, the new coronavirus (known as SARS CoV-2 virus) and the disease it causes, COVID-19 affects humans, but can potentially affect chimpanzees and other apes. “The risk to our closest cousins is enormous. Already, two-thirds of human infectious diseases have been found to originate from wildlife, including the deadly Ebola, SARS, MERS and now COVID-19,” noted Dr. Rukundo.
Lying 23km from Entebbe municipality, Ngamba island is a home of 50 orphaned Chimpanzees that were rescued from different parts of Uganda as a result of human-wildlife conflict. The 100-acre forested piece of land is one of the islands that form Koome islands in Mukono district. Not only is it a safe haven for orphaned Chimpanzees that are free to enjoy the natural habitat of the area, the island is curved with accommodation facilities, to which, access has been restricted due to the COVID19 pandemic.