Orangutans and Coronavirus

Coronavirus or Covid-19 disease

A novel coronavirus recently emerged from “Wuhan” which is a city of central China, called COVID-19. It has imposed very serious threats to human beings and in animals as well around the globe due to its zoonotic potential. As a matter of concern, it is necessary to introduce some effective control strategies to protect orangutans and human beings as well and also other animal species especially those which have already been declared as “endangered”.

The Orangutans’ homes

Borneo and Sumatra are two main islands where orangutans are existing now. These orangutans are the only lasting great apes in Asia. They have two well-recognized species as “Bornean orangutans and Sumatran orangutans”. Naturally, they have a small population density of 2 orangutans per km2. Male orangutans often travel alone while females travel with their offspring. Their population size may vary according to the availability of fruits/food in that area. At a moment, they are listed as endangered and falling in their population size. Several factors like inappropriate habitat, uncleaned water, and over-crowding contribute as predisposing factors for many zoonotic and vector-borne diseases.

The possible impact of Covid-19 on Orangutans

In the Malay language, the word orangutan means “man of the forest”. Among all the living creatures, chimpanzees, baboons, orangutans, apes, and gorillas are the closest relative creatures of human beings as they have 97% DNA in common and they are also susceptible to coronavirus. Unfortunately, most of them have been declared as “endangered” or at risk of being extinct. A number of factors are involved in the extinction of wild orangutans including, habitat destruction on a massive scale due to urbanization, climate change, and food and water chain disruption. Another factor that perhaps not discussed, but no less lethal, is the transmission of zoonotic infections from a human being to these innocent wild creatures. Recently reported COVID-19 is an example of zoonotic disease. Keeping in view the threats of extinction, we have to adopt immediate and strict control measures against zoonotic coronavirus.

Former experiences with zoonotic diseases

Some previous research study shows that infectious zoonotic diseases erased chimpanzees and Gabonese gorilla populations on a massive scale and pushed them towards extinction in the past few years, with exception of orangutans, which are semi-solitary in nature. As for as COVID-19 is concerned, none of the studies has been reported the presence of novel coronavirus in orangutans or apes so far. While on the other hand, the zoonotic potential of coronavirus can’t be ruled out if the strict control and preventive measure would not be adopted. There is a great need to educate the public to limit direct contact with companion animals.

Recommended guidelines of the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Currently, it is unknown that apes or orangutans are susceptible to coronavirus or not. But at a moment it is safest to assume that they are susceptible. Keeping in view this alarming situation, IUCN recommended some guidelines to minimize the potential of coronavirus transmission to wild apes and orangutans.

It is highly recommended that:

  • Maintain the distance of about 7 meters from wild orangutans and wild apes in all situations and 10 meters in the current pandemic situation
  • No coronavirus positive person will be allowed to enter the premises
  • All the visitors should wear clean clothing and disinfect their feet/shoes prior to the entry into the park/zoo.
  • A surgical face mask should be worn by visitors, staff members, and handlers as well.
  • Ensure toilet use away from the zoo
  • Provide hand sanitizers to the visitors
  • Impose a quarantine of 14 days to all visitors which arriving from outside the country

Many zoos are testing their animal handling staff for coronavirus because it is necessary to keep safe animals and human beings both from the harmful effects of coronavirus. Strict obedience to these recommended guidelines will definitely lower down the risk of coronavirus transmission to orangutans and great apes during this pandemic.

Another study reported the impression of presentations to the visitors on the impact of palm oil on orangutans and their habitations. Results revealed that 83% of visitors remember the key points after the presentation. COVID-19 could alter the association between humans and orangutans. Nevertheless, humans can adore their existence and acquire more knowledge about them whereas maintaining an appropriate space.

Orangutans and Coronavirus