Great Apes - COVID-19 Guidance

IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group
Published: 30 August 2022
Last edited: 30 August 2022
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As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, scientists and conservation managers began questioning how it would impact their research, conservation efforts, and the wellbeing of global wildlife. Primates are susceptible to the same diseases as humans, and the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group had previously created guidance on best practices for great apes’ protection from other respiratory diseases due to the presence of human tourists and field workers. The group began collecting questions about how COVID-19 would impact great apes from protected area managers, zookeepers, field researchers, and other individuals whose work is directly linked with the animals. A working group was put together and guidelines for how to approach great ape conservation in the face of this new and deadly pandemic were drafted and shared. These guidelines were aimed at researchers and conservationists, but have since grown and been reworked for other audiences including extractive industries, governments, and site-specific teams.


West and Central Africa
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Tropical deciduous forest
Tropical evergreen forest
Access and benefit sharing
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Forest Management
Health and human wellbeing
Local actors
One Health
Outreach & communications
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Species management
Sustainable livelihoods
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Wildlife Health Surveillance (to capture biodiversity, health, disease, and pathogen surveillance)
Species Monitoring and Research
Species Intensive Management (in situ or ex situ)
Species Conservation Planning
Risk communication, community engagement and behaviour change
Risk assessment
One Health coordination mechanism
One Health
Animal health
Biodiversity-health nexus
Neglected tropical diseases, emerging infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Changes in socio-cultural context




The COVID-19 pandemic put the entire world into a state of emergency and forced all sectors to quickly make changes in how they carry out their work. The lack of immediately available information about COVID-19 was a major challenge for most conservationists trying to proceed with work in a safe manner, for both themselves and the animals. The IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group’s previous publications gave them a starting point from which they could efficiently put together an initial guidance on how to safely proceed with work related to great apes amid a respiratory disease crisis.


  • Great apes
  • The surrounding ecosystems, including other wild species
  • Field researchers and conservationists
  • Tourism sector and its dependents

How do the building blocks interact?

The COVID-19 pandemic was a challenging and trying time for everyone. The enthusiastic membership of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group utilized their expertise and previous experience with guideline creation to work efficiently through the crisis. They gathered information from trusted sources, both their own published work and that of experts outside of the group, and strategically built a new set of guidelines specific to the continuously changing reality of COVID-19.


The COVID-19 pandemic brought questions of how to safely move forward in all lines of work, including conservation and research. Much of the work in this sector cannot be done remotely, so guidance on how to proceed safely, for both humans and great apes, was necessary in order for projects and duties to continue. These guidelines provided recommendations, including minimum requirements and additional best practices, on how to minimize transmission between people and apes. Essential conservation work, such as monitoring and observation, was able to continue despite the challenges brought on during this time. As other industries began adapting to the realities of the pandemic, further guidelines created by the working group enabled other businesses to put in place appropriate measures to reduce the spread of the virus causing COVID-19. This includes the ecotourism industry that many places rely on for income and as an incentive for conservation.

Contributed by

kellyrosenunziata_42006's picture

Kelly Rose Nunziata EcoHealth Alliance