As the coronavirus pandemic continues, chimpanzee sanctuaries across the globe are restricting human interactions with the animals in an effort to prevent potentially passing the virus to the primates.
Though it is currently unclear whether humans can spread novel coronavirus COVID-19 to apes, the sanctuaries are preparing for the worst and taking the necessary precautions.
Speaking to The New York Times, Rana Smith, the president of the national chimpanzee sanctuary Chimp Haven in Keithville, La., shared, “We simply don’t know if chimpanzees can contract the disease, but we are assuming they can since they are vulnerable to other respiratory diseases such as influenza.”
The outlet also shared evidence from Chinese studies which shows that some monkeys can contract the virus.
Like many other organizations dealing with the current health crisis, Chimp Haven has suspended staff meetings, parties, board meetings, and other activities for at least 30 days.
The sanctuary has also stopped public visits along with many routine interactions among chimps and human staff members, including “physical examinations, social introductions, and most training sessions.”
A transfer of new chimps to the sanctuary scheduled for March has been postponed as well.
Other sanctuaries around the world are taking similar actions.
Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, a Washington state sanctuary located at the base of the Cascade Mountains that cares for 10 older chimps, also recognizes that other human respiratory viruses have caused lethal outbreaks among primates.
Diana Goodrich, who co-founded the sanctuary, told Reuters.com, “Our whole population could be considered vulnerable,” before adding, “We don’t know if the COVID-19 is transmittable to chimpanzees, but we have to assume it is.”
Noting that she currently has a reduced staff, who wear medical scrubs, masks, and gloves to reduce chances of exposure, currently working at the sanctuary, Goodrich also shared “We’re protecting them from us.”
While it is unclear the risk COVID-19 poses to primates and other wild animals, the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the American Veterinary Medical Association have all stated that pets are not at risk of spreading COVID-19.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.
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