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Scientists study tourists to protect apes – Scientific Inquirer

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Researchers protect apes from disease by studying the behavior and expectations of tourists who visit them.

Humans are great apes, and this close genetic relationship makes great apes (bonobos, chimpanzees, eastern gorillas, western gorillas, and orangutans) vulnerable to our infectious diseases.

In a new study by an international team including the University of Exeter, NOVA University of Lisbon and the Ugandan NGO Conservation Through Public Health, nearly 1,000 tourists or potential future tourists filled out an online survey.


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Willingness to follow disease prevention measures, such as wearing a mask, varied by factors such as nationality, expectations about visitor experiences, and whether people believed certain disease risk measures were effective.

The study was conducted in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, when researchers also created Protect the apes from disease initiative.

“We developed visitor education materials and guide training for use in African ape tourism destinations,” said the lead author. Dr. Ana NunoNOVA University of Lisbon and University of Exeter.

“To do this, we first looked at what factors seem to influence visitor compliance with disease reduction measures.

“This included asking about their actions during previous visits, their willingness to comply in the future and exploring what factors should be promoted to increase their willingness to follow the recommendations.

“To do this, we adapted a tool from the public health literature that is commonly used to understand why people may or may not act in the face of a health threat.”

Dr. Kim Hawkingsfrom Center for Ecology and Protection at the Penryn Campus in Exeter, Cornwall, added: “Through this better understanding of visitors to wild African great ape tourism sites, we have been able to identify ways to improve measures to reduce disease transmission.

“This is important not only for COVID-19, but also for other infectious diseases, especially in the early stages of future pandemics, when information is usually limited but preventive measures are necessary.

“With increasing threats from future pandemics, we must minimize disease transmission by ensuring that tourism and research contribute to the long-term support of great ape conservation and their habitats, and maximize the benefits to local communities.”

The survey was completed by 420 former visitors and 569 potential future visitors (from a total of 58 countries) to wild ape tourism destinations in Africa.

Compared to other mitigation measures, visitors were less willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 (which at the time of the survey had only begun to be given to very high-risk groups), to wear a mask while hiking (although willingly when viewing monkeys), and to quarantine after international travel before visiting apes.

The belief that each specific measure was effective in preventing disease was key to respondents’ willingness to follow that particular recommendation.

IMAGE CREDIT: NASA.


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