Further conservation measures are required to protect Vietnamese reptiles, such as the psychedelic rock gecko (Cnemaspis psychedelica), from habitat loss and overharvesting, concludes a new report, published in the open-access scientific journalNature Conservation.
Having identified areas of high reptile diversity and large numbers of endangered species, the study provides a list of the 50 most threatened species as a guide for further research and conservation action in Vietnam.
The study, based on the bachelor thesis of Lilli Stenger (University of Cologne, Germany), recommends IUCN CPSG’s One Plan Approach to Conservation measures, which, next to improved habitat conservation, also involves increasing the number of threatened species in breeding stations and zoos to maintain populations suitable for restocking.
The scientists identified 484 reptile species known to Vietnam, aiming to provide a baseline to authorities, conservationists, rescue centers, and zoos, so they can follow up with appropriate conservation measures for endangered species. They note that the number is likely to go up, as the country is regarded as a top biodiversity hotspot, and the rate of new reptile species discoveries remains high.
According to the IUCN Red List, 74 of the identified species are considered threatened with extinction, including 34 endemic species. For more than half of Vietnam’s endemic reptiles (85 of 159), the IUCN Red List status is either missing or outdated, and further research is imperative for these species, the researchers say.
Vietnam has a high level of reptile diversity and an outstanding number of endemic species. The species richness maps in the study revealed the Central Annamites in central Vietnam to harbor the highest endemic species diversity (32 species), which highlights it as a site of particular importance for reptile conservation. Alarmingly, a protected area analysis showed that 53 of the 159 endemic species (33.2%) including 17 threatened species, have been recorded exclusively from unprotected areas, such as the Psychedelic Rock Gecko.
In General, Vietnam is considered a country with high conservation priority due to habitat loss and overharvesting for trade, traditional medicine and food.
Globally, reptiles are considered a group of special conservation concern, as they play an important role in almost all ecosystems and often have relatively small distribution ranges, making them especially vulnerable to human threats.
Stenger L, Große Hovest A, Nguyen TQ, Pham CT, Rauhaus A, Le MD, Rödder D, Ziegler T (2023) Assessment of the threat status of reptile species from Vietnam – Implementation of the One Plan Approach to Conservation. Nature Conservation 53: 183 221. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.53.106923
While insect populations continue to decline, taxonomic expertise in Europe is at serious risk, confirms data obtained within the European Red List of Insect Taxonomists, a recent study commissioned by the European Union.
Expertise tends to be particularly poor in the countries with the richest biodiversity, while taxonomists are predominantly male and ageing
While insect populations continue to decline, taxonomic expertise in Europe is at serious risk, confirms data obtained within the European Red List of Insect Taxonomists, a recent study commissioned by the European Union.
Scientists who specialise in the identification and discovery of insect species – also known as insect taxonomists – are declining across Europe, highlights the newly released report by CETAF, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Pensoft. The authors of this report represent different perspectives within biodiversity science, including natural history and research institutions, nature conservation, academia and scientific publishing.
Despite the global significance of its taxonomic collections, Europe has been losing taxonomic expertise at such a rate that, at the moment nearly half (41.4%) of the insect orders are not covered by a sufficient number of scientists. If only EU countries are counted, the number looks only slightly more positive (34.5%). Even the four largest insect orders: beetles (Coleoptera), moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera), flies (Diptera) and wasps, bees, ants and sawflies (Hymenoptera) are only adequately ‘covered’ in a fraction of the countries.
To obtain details about the number, location and productivity of insect taxonomists, the team extracted information from thousands of peer-reviewed research articles published in the last decade, queried the most important scientific databases and reached out to over fifty natural science institutions and their networks. Furthermore, a dedicated campaign reached out to individual researchers through multiple communication channels. As a result, more than 1,500 taxonomists responded by filling in a self-declaration survey to provide information about their personal and academic profile, qualification and activities.
Then, the collected information was assessed against numerical criteria to classify the scientists into categories similar to those used by the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM. In the European List of Insect Taxonomists, these range from Eroded Capacity (equivalent to Extinct) to Adequate Capacity (equivalent to Least Concern). The assessment was applied to the 29 insect orders (i.e. beetles, moths and butterflies etc.) to figure out which insect groups the society, conservation practitioners and decision-makers need not be concerned at this point.
On a country level, the results showed that Czechia, Germany and Russia demonstrate the most adequate coverage of insect groups. Meanwhile, Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Luxembourg, Latvia, Ireland and Malta turned out to be the ones with insufficient number of taxonomists.
In most cases, the availability of experts seems to correlate to GDP, as wealthiest countries tend to invest more in their scientific institutions.
What is particularly worrying is that the lack of taxonomic expertise is more evident in the countries with the greatest species diversity. This trend may cause even more significant problems in the knowledge and conservation of these species, further aggravating the situation. Thus, the report provides further evidence about a global pattern where the countries richest in biodiversity are also the ones poorest in financial and human resources.
Other concerning trends revealed in the new report are that the community of taxonomists is also ageing and – especially in the older groups – male-dominated (82%).
“One reason to have fewer young taxonomists could be due to limited opportunities for professional training (…), and the fact that not all professional taxonomists provide it, as a significant number of taxonomists are employed by museums and their opportunities for interaction with university students is probably not optimal. Gender bias is very likely caused by multiple factors, including fewer opportunities for women to be exposed to taxonomic research and gain an interest, unequal offer of career opportunities and hiring decisions. A fair-playing field for all genders will be crucial to address these shortcomings and close the gap.”
comments Ana Casino, CETAF’s Executive Director.
The European Red List of Taxonomists concludes with practical recommendations concerning strategic, science and societal priorities, addressed to specific decision-makers.
The authors give practical examples and potential solutions in support of their call to action.
For instance, in order to develop targeted and sustainable funding mechanisms to support taxonomy, they propose the launch of regular targeted Horizon Europe calls to study important insect groups for which taxonomic capacity has been identified to be at a particularly high risk of erosion.
To address specific gaps in expertise – such as the ones reported in the publication from Romania – a country known for its rich insect diversity, yet poor in taxonomic expertise – the consortium proposes the establishment of a natural history museum or entomological research institute that is well-fitted to serve as a taxonomic facility.
Amongst the scientific recommendations, the authors propose measures to ensure better recognition of taxonomic work at a multidisciplinary level. The scientific community, including disciplines that use taxonomic research, such as molecular biology, medicine and agriculture – need to embrace universal standards and rigorous conduct for the correct citation of scientific publications by insect taxonomists.
Societal engagement is another important call. “It is pivotal to widely raise awareness of the value and impact of taxonomy and the work of taxonomists. We must motivate young generations to join the scientific community” points Prof. Lyubomir Penev, Managing Director of Pensoft.
“Understanding taxonomy is a key to understanding the extinction risk of species. If we strategically target the gaps in expert capacity that this European Red List identifies, we can better protect biodiversity and support the well-being and livelihoods of our societies. With the climate crisis at hand, there is no time left to waste,”
added David Allen from the IUCN Red List team.
“As a dedicated supporter of the IUCN Red List, I am inspired by this call to strengthen the capacity, guided by evidence and proven scientific methods. However, Europe has much more scientific capacity than most biodiversity-rich regions of the world. So, what this report particularly highlights is the need for massively increasing investment in scientific discovery, and building taxonomic expertise, around the world,”
said Jon Paul Rodríguez, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.
The Red List of Taxonomists portal, where taxonomy experts in the field of entomology can register to help map and assess expertise across Europe, in order to provide action points necessary to overcome the risks, preserve and support this important scientific community, will remain open until 31st October 2021.
Within the one-year project, the partners are to build a database of European taxonomy experts in the field of entomology and analyse the collected data to shed light on the trends in available expertise, including best or least studied insect taxa and geographic distribution of the scientists who are working on those groups. Then, they will present them to policy makers at the European Commission.
By recruiting as many as possible insect taxonomists from across Europe, the Red List of Taxonomists initiative will not only be able to identify taxa and countries, where the “extinction” of insect taxonomists has reached a critical point, but also create a robust knowledge base on taxonomic expertise across the European region to prompt further support and funding for taxonomy in the Old Continent.
On behalf of the project partners, we would like to express our immense gratitude to everyone who has self-declared as an insect taxonomist on the Red List of Taxonomists registration portal. Please feel welcome to share our call for participation with colleagues and social networks to achieve maximum engagement from everyone concerned about the future of taxonomy!
Read more about the rationale of the Red List of Taxonomists project.
Contributors will enable the EU to take action to plug in the essential scientific knowledge to address insect declines
The ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ initiative, funded by the European Union, launches its registration portal, where professionals and citizen scientists are called to register on. The purpose is to build a database of European taxonomy experts in the field of entomology, the biological discipline dedicated to insects. The analysis of these data will elucidate the trends in available expertise, thereby forming the basis of key recommendations for policy makers to further allocate necessary efforts and funds to support taxonomists’ work and contribute to protecting European biodiversity and beyond.
Globally, insect populations have been catastrophically plummeting over the last decades. According to the first major Europe-wide survey of honeybee colonies, conducted in 2013, some European countries lost as many as one-third of their colonies every winter. On the other hand, estimates state, the European agriculture industry alone ‘owes’ at least €22 billion per year to honey bees and wild bees, in addition to many species from other insect orders, as together they ensure pollination for over 80% of crops and wild plants in Europe.
The health of European pollinators on species and population level and other insects essential in our ecosystems strongly relies on our ability to rapidly turn the growing awareness about these worrying trends into swift, decisive actions. These decisions are crucial to mitigate the negative impacts of these alarming trends in human activities, mainly industrial agriculture. Taxonomists – the people who can identify, discover and monitor insect species – have a decisive role to play.
Often specialised in specific insect groups, they can investigate the diversity and abundance of insects. To a great concern, the numbers of trained insect taxonomists seem also to be fast declining. There is the real danger of losing numerous species before we get the chance to even learn about their existence!
On a more positive note, while species extinction is an irreversible event, certain taxonomic expertise can be nourished and ‘brought back to life’ if only we have the data and analyses to bring to the attention of the relevant education institutions, governments and policy-makers, so that the necessary resources are allocated to education, training, career support and recognition.
This is how the ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ project, an initiative by the organisation uniting the most important and largest European natural science collections (CETAF), the world’s authority on assessing the risk of extinction of organisms: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the scientific publisher with a long history in the biodiversity and ecology fields: Pensoft, and funded by the European Commission, comes into play. Launched earlier this year, the ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ aims to compile the very first inventory of taxonomic expertise for any group of organisms, understandably choosing the class of insects.
Bringing together scientists, research institutions and learned societies from across Europe, the project will compare the trends and extract recommendations to overcome the risks, while preserving and further evolving the expert capacity of this scientific community.
As partners of the project, CETAF and IUCN are mobilising experts from their respective networks to populate the ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ database. In parallel, Pensoft is extracting further data of authors, reviewers and editors from taxonomic publications across its portfolio of academic journals and books, in addition to major relevant databases working with scholarly literature.
To reach experts, including professionals not necessarily affiliated with partnering institutions, as well as citizen scientists, the team is now calling for European taxonomists to register via the newly launched ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ portal and provide their data by filling a short survey. Their data will not be publicly available, but it will be used for in-depth analyses and reports in the concluding stage of the project, scheduled for early 2022. The collection of the data is in full compliance with GDPR requirements.
Insect taxonomists, both professional and citizen scientists, are welcome to register on the Red List of Taxonomists portal at: red-list-taxonomists.eu and further disseminate the registration portal to fellow taxonomists.
New EC-funded project will identify trends in taxonomic expertise across Europe to identify gaps in expert knowledge
Insects are the largest taxonomic group in the animal kingdom. Three out of four described animal species belong to the class Insecta. They are widely distributed in terrestrial and aquatic environments. Indispensable to the ecosystem, insects drive key processes such as pollination, decomposition, soil formation and supply an essential part of the food webs.
Yet, insect populations have been catastrophically plummeting. For example, recent studies have shown a decrease of 75% of insect biomass in German Nature Reserves in less than 30 years, and the situation is probably no less dramatic anywhere in Europe. According to the European Red List of threatened species, one in ten bee species and a quarter of all grasshopper species are at risk of extinction. As it becomes clear how dependent on insects our ecosystems and our economy are, people gradually realise the dramatic consequences of insect decline.
One less known aspect of this global crisis is on the agenda today: the shrinking number of insect taxonomists, the scientists on whose highly specialised skills we depend to obtain knowledge on the diversity of organisms. Without taxonomists, no study of species or ecosystems would be possible, as we would not be able to recognise what biodiversity we are losing.
Here is why the European Commission has funded a new project to embark on the pioneer task to assess the status of taxonomic expertise on insects in Europe. A “Red List” of taxonomists will be compiled for the first time for any group of organisms. The effort is being undertaken by a diverse and interdisciplinary team of experts, including the organisation uniting the most important and largest European natural science collections (CETAF) and the world’s authority on assessing the risk of extinction of organisms: IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature).
As with typical European Red List (ERL) assessments, normally applied to species level, the project involves the collection and evaluation of the available information about the number, location, qualification and field of specialisation of insect taxonomists and the application of systematic criteria to assess the risk of their “extinction”. This concept has never been applied to scientists before, but by using the ERL analogy, the project aims to combine those groups of insects and those countries that bear the highest risk of losing the associated taxonomic expertise and potential gaps.
Bringing together individual scientists, research institutions and learned societies from across Europe, the project will compare the trends and pull up recommendations to overcoming the risks, preserving and further evolving the expert capacity of this scientific community. Unlike species extinctions, the loss of taxonomic knowledge is reversible, especially when the needs are clear and the necessary resources are invested in education, training, career development and recognition.
CETAF is the European organization of Natural History Museums, Botanic Gardens and Research Centers with their associated natural science collections comprising 71 of the largest taxonomic institutions from 22 European countries (18 EU, 1 EEA and 3 non-EU), gathering expertise of more than 5,000 researchers. Their collections contain a wide range of specimens including animals, plants, fungi and rocks, and genetic resources which are used for scientific research and exhibitions. CETAF aims to promote training, research collaborations and understanding in taxonomy and systematic biology as well as to facilitate access to our natural heritage by sharing the information derived from the collections.
IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) is a membership Union composed of both government and civil society organisations. It harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its more than 1,400 Member organisations and the input of more than 17,000 experts. This diversity and vast expertise makes IUCN the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.
Pensoft is an independent academic publishing company and technology provider, well known worldwide for its novel cutting-edge publishing tools, workflows and methods for text and data publishing of journals, books and conference materials. Through its Research and Technical Development department, the company is involved in various research and technology projects. Founded in 1992 “by scientists, for scientists” and initially focusing on book publishing, Pensoft is now a leading publisher of innovative open access journals in taxonomy and biodiversity science.
On the one hand, the publication is remarkable because of the large number of new species of frogs. Regarding vertebrate animals, most studies only list between one and five new to science species, because of the difficulty of their collection and the copious amount of work involved in the description of each. To put it into perspective, the last time a single article dealt with a similar number of newly discovered frogs from the western hemisphere was in 2007, when Spanish scientist Ignacio de la Riva described twelve species from Bolivia.
On the other hand, the new paper by Nadia Paez and Dr Santiago Ron is astounding due to the fact that it comes as part of the undergraduate thesis of Nadia Paez, a former Biology student at the Pontifical Catholic University, where she was supervised by Professor Santiago Ron. Normally, such a publication would be the result of the efforts of a large team of senior scientists. Currently, Nadia Paez is a PhD student in the Department of Zoology at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
Unfortunately, amongst the findings of concern is that most of the newly described frog species are listed as either Data Deficient or Threatened with extinction, according to the criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). All of the studied amphibians appear to have very restricted geographic ranges, spanning less than 2,500 km2. To make matters worse, their habitats are being destroyed by human activities, especially cattle raising, agriculture, and mining.
Amongst the newly described species, there is the peculiar Multicolored Rain Frog, where the name refers to its outstanding color variation. Individuals vary from bright yellow to dark brown. Initially, the studied specimens were assumed to belong to at least two separate species. However, genetic data demonstrated that they represented a single, even if highly variable, species.
The rest of the previously unknown frogs were either named after scientists, who have made significant contributions in their fields, or given the names of the places they were discovered, in order to highlight places of conservation priority.
Paez NB, Ron SR (2019) Systematics of Huicundomantis, a new subgenus of Pristimantis (Anura, Strabomantidae) with extraordinary cryptic diversity and eleven new species. ZooKeys868: 1-112. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.868.26766.
The endemic reptiles are already proposed to be listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
While proper information about the conservation status of tiger gecko species is largely missing, these Asian lizards are already particularly vulnerable to extinction, as most of them have extremely restricted distribution. Furthermore, they have been facing severe declines over the last two decades, mostly due to overcollection for the international exotic pet market. Such is the case of the Cat Ba Tiger Gecko, whose tiny populations can only be found on Cat Ba Island and a few islands in the Ha Long Bay (Vietnam).
In their study, a Vietnamese-German research team, led by PhD candidate Hai Ngoc Ngo of the Vietnam National Museum of Nature in Hanoi, provide an overview of the evidence for domestic and international trade in tiger gecko species and update the information about the abundance and threats impacting the subpopulations of the Vietnamese Cat Ba Tiger Gecko in Ha Long Bay.
By presenting both direct and online observations, interviews and existing knowledge, the scientists point out that strict conservation measures and regulations are urgently needed for the protection and monitoring of all tiger geckos. The research article is published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.
Tiger geckos are a genus (Goniurosaurus) of 19 species native to Vietnam, China and Japan. Many of them can only be found within a single locality, mountain range or archipelago. They live in small, disjunct populations, where the population from Ha Long Bay is estimated at about 120 individuals. Due to demands in the international pet trade in the last two decades, as well as habitat destruction, some species are already considered extinct at the localities where they had originally been discovered.
However, it was not until very recently that some species of these geckos received attention from the regulatory institutions in their home countries, leading to the prohibition of their collection without a permit. Only eight tiger geckos have so far had their species conservation status assessed for the IUCN Red List. Not surprisingly, all of them were classified as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Nevertheless, none is currently listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which could be the only efficient and reliable method to monitor, regulate and police the trade of the species on a global scale.
“Tiger geckos are neither sufficiently protected by law nor part of conservation programmes, due to the lack of substantial knowledge on the species conservation status and probably due to the general lack of public as well as political interest in biodiversity conservation,” they explain. “To date, exact impacts of trade on the species cannot be identified, as data of legal trade are only recorded for species listed in the CITES Appendices”.
During their survey, the researchers tracked local traders in possession of wild-caught tiger geckos representing all five Vietnamese species en route to foreign exotic pet markets, mainly in the United States, the European Union and Japan. The species were also frequently found to be sold in local pet shops in Vietnam, as well as being offered via various online platforms and social media networks like Facebook.
Having spoken to local dealers in Vietnam, the team found the animals were traded via long and complex chains, beginning from local villagers living within the species’ distribution range, who catch the geckos and sell them to dealers for as little as US$4 – 5 per individual. Then, a lizard either ends up at a local shop with a US$7 – 25 price tag or is either transported by boat or by train to Thailand or Indonesia, from where it is flown to the major overseas markets and sold for anywhere between US$100 and 2,000, depending on its rarity. However, many of these delicate wild animals do not arrive alive at their final destination, as their travels include lengthy trips in overfilled boxes under poor conditions with no food and water.
Indeed, although the researchers reported a large quantity of tiger geckos labelled as captive-bred in Europe, it turns out that their availability is far from enough to meet the current demands.
In conclusion, the team provides a list of several recommendations intended to improve the conservation of the Asian geckos: (1) inclusion of all tiger geckos in the Appendices of CITES; (2) assessment of each species for the IUCN Red List; (3) concealment of any currently unknown localities; and (4) improvement/establishment of coordinated ex-situ breeding programmes for all species.
The inclusion of all tiger gecko species from China and Vietnam in CITES Appendix II was recently proposed jointly by the European Union, China and Vietnam and is to be decided upon at the Conference of the parties (CoP18) in May-June 2019, held in Sri Lanka.
Ngo HN, Nguyen TQ, Phan TQ, van Schingen M, Ziegler T (2019) A case study on trade in threatened Tiger Geckos (Goniurosaurus) in Vietnam including updated information on the abundance of the Endangered G. catbaensis. Nature Conservation 33: 1-19. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.32.33590
Query- and geographically-biased summaries; mismatch between objectives and cited literature; and misuse of existing conservation data have all been identified in the alarming study, according to Drs Atte Komonen, Panu Halme and Janne Kotiaho of the University of Jyväskylä (Finland). Despite the claims of the review paper’s authors that their work serves as a wake-up call for the wider community, the Finnish team explain that it could rather compromise the credibility of conservation science.
The first problem about the paper, titled “Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers” and published in the journal Biological Conservation, is that its authors have queried the Web of Science database specifically using the keywords “insect”, “decline” and “survey”.
“If you search for declines, you will find declines. We are not questioning the conclusion that insects are declining,” Komonen and his team point out, “but we do question the rate and extent of declines.”
The Finnish research team also note that there are mismatches between methods and literature, and misuse of IUCN Red List categories. The review is criticised for grouping together species, whose conservation status according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is Data Deficient with those deemed Vulnerable. By definition, there are no data for Data Deficient species to assess their declines.
In addition, the review paper is seen to use “unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper,” as the Finnish researchers quote a recent news story published in The Guardian. Having given the words dramatic, compelling, extensive, shocking, drastic, dreadful, devastating as examples, they add that that such strong intensifiers “should not be acceptable” in research articles.
“As actively popularising conservation scientists, we are concerned that such development is eroding the importance of the biodiversity crisis, making the work of conservationists harder, and undermining the credibility of conservation science,” the researchers explain the motivation behind their response.
The rattan palm is confined to moist evergreen forests with high rainfall, located at 100 to 200 meters above sea level. The species is poorly known, yet it is likely very rare judging from the limited amount of forest habitat remaining across its range. Furthermore, the known populations are isolated from each other by large distances, which makes them particularly vulnerable.
Even though there are gaps of knowledge concerning the rattan palm species, the research team conclude that it is most likely currently declining, due to habitat loss, fragmentation and over-harvesting. Often mistaken for a sister species, commonly used in trade, the stems of the endangered species are largely used in furniture production. When longitudinally split into ribbons, the canes are also used as ropes for thatching, for making baskets and sieves, and to make traps.
“As with most African rattan species, there is inadequate information on the international trade, but it is likely to be negligible,” explain the scientists.
“Conservation measures are urgently needed to protect the habitat of this species and to control the unsustainable harvest of the stems. A promising solution might be sustainable cultivation of rattans to avoid the exploitation of wild populations,” suggests Ariane Cosiaux (IRD), the lead author of the study currently based in Cameroon.
With their present paper, the authors make use of a specialised novel publication type feature, called Species Conservation Profile, created by Biodiversity Data Journal, to provide scholarly credit and citation for the IUCN Red List species page, as well as pinpoint the population trends and the reasons behind them.
Cosiaux A, Gardiner L, Ouattara D, Stauffer F, Sonké B, Couvreur T (2017) An endangered West African rattan palm: Eremospatha dransfieldii. Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e11176. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.5.e11176
Primates claim the highest proportion of endangered species among all mammals, according to the IUCN Red List. Yet, the substantial conservation interference from humans, which is already in place, could itself lead to even greater losses.
Plenty of studies have proven that while researchers and ecotourists raise vital for ape conservation knowledge and funds, it is actually human presence that compromises primates’ well-being due to extremely similar genetics and, thereby, easily transmittable diseases, ranging from common cold to human tuberculosis and Ebola fever.
In a paper published in the open access journal BioRisk, Rhiannon Schultz, Miami University, seeks the golden mean between giving ape species a hand and keeping safe distance. To showcase the impact human have on primates, the scientist makes example of the Mountain gorilla, an endangered species living in the montane forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.
Simply being in close proximity to primates, humans can easily transmit a wide range of diseases to the animals, including intestinal parasites, hepatitis, tuberculosis, Typhoid fever, Cholera, and Ebola fever. The transmission can occur as easily as having the two species breathing the same air, or the people leaving a banana peel behind.
Furthermore, threats to the gorilla species are also posed by the humans destroying the primates’ habitats. The result is overlapping populations, where a disease is much easier to transmit among the small gorilla populations. For example, normally an ill individual would be put under a ‘natural quarantine’, which is impossible when the habitat has already been reduced.
In the meantime, banning people, both tourists and scientists, from gorilla habitat is not an option, since knowledge about the populations’ dynamics is essential for the conservation of all primate species. On the other hand, ecotourism is what raises a great part of the resources need for conservation work. Income from gorilla trekking is enough to support the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, while also contributing a significant part to the country’s national budget.
The key, Rhiannon Schultz concludes, is to, firstly, promote understanding of the risk for interspecies disease transmission as a conservation threat, and then, improve on current protocols and regulations.
“It may be difficult to ask tourists to wear masks while visiting animals in the wild, and it may be expensive to maintain a veterinary program for wild populations and to improve healthcare systems for local people, but making these improvements could be the key to preventing disease transmission to not only Mountain gorillas but also to other apes,” sums up the scientist.
Schultz R (2016) Killer Conservation: the implications of disease on gorilla conservation.BioRisk 11: 1-11. doi: 10.3897/biorisk.11.9941