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Protecting Great Apes from Disease: Compliance with measures to reduce disease transmission

Updated: May 15, 2023

The link to the newly published paper is here, OPEN ACCESS in the journal People and Nature!

On 4th September 2022 an international team of researchers led by Dr. Kimberley Hockings of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter published their findings from their 2021 Darwin Grant titled ‘Reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to African great apes in tourism’.

Humans, bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and eastern and western gorillas are great apes. All great apes are closely genetically related, and so nonhuman great apes are particularly vulnerable to infectious disease from humans.

In close-contact activities, for instance tourism and research, nonhuman great apes are especially vulnerable to infectious diseases from humans. Though these activities can assist conservation efforts, it is not without risk, and these risks are well documented. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic revived concerns of disease transmission, especially in these close-contact activities and so…

The project explored visitor behaviour, expectations and willingness to comply with disease mitigation guidelines through an online questionnaire which saw nearly 1000 past and potential future visitors take part. With this information the project looked to improve the measures to reduce disease transmission, not only COVID-19 but a wide range of other infectious diseases too. For example: “Perceived effectiveness of specific measures were important factors explaining variation in potential compliance across multiple behaviours” (Nuno et al 2022). This means we must explore what messages should be used and how to frame them so that we can effectively promote good practices among visitors.

This study was implemented to inform the development of visitor education and guide training materials and so the ‘Protect Great Apes from Disease’ project was born (Chesney and Hockings 2021).

On the People & Nature blog ‘Relational Thinking’ the authors of the new paper say:

For this to happen, in the long term, the increased measures put in place during the pandemic must become permanent (Chesney and Hockings, 2021, ‘Keep Protecting Great Apes from Disease’).


We ask all people with contacts at wild great ape tourism sites and tourism organisations to use and share the education and training materials developed by ‘Protect Great Apes from Disease’ available (FOR FREE) on the website These materials include posters (see one below), videos and a booklet, all available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. You can also follow the project on Twitter and Instagram.

Blog Contributors

Chloe Chesney, research assistant and project coordinator for ‘Protect Great Apes from Disease’ and PhD student at the University of Exeter and NOVA University Lisbon.

Dr. Ana Nuno, conservation social scientist for ‘Protect Great Apes from Disease’, Marie Curie research fellow at NOVA University Lisbon and Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter.

Dr. Elena Bersacola, post-doctoral researcher affiliated to the University of Exeter.

Maia Wellbelove, masters student at the University of Exeter.

Dr. Kimberley Hockings, ‘Protect Great Apes from Disease’ project leader and Senior Lecturer in Conservation Science at the University of Exeter.

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