Journal Article

Primate selfies and anthropozoonotic diseases: Lack of rule compliance and poor risk perception threatens orangutans


Our understanding of the transmission of anthropozoonotic diseases between humans and non-human primates, particularly great apes due to their close genetic relationship with humans, highlights a serious potential threat to the survival of these species. This is particularly the case at tourism sites where risk of disease transmission is increased. We focus on the interaction between tourists and the Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) at Bukit Lawang in the Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia, before and after the park was closed due to the threat of COVID-19 in April 2020. Through analysis of posts on Instagram we determine the extent of compliance by visitors with the rule to keep a minimum distance of 10 m from orangutans and assess the positional behaviours of the orangutans. Of the 2,229 photographs we assessed between November 2019 and July 2020, 279 depicted one or more orangutans. Forty-two of these contained both a human and an orangutan, and of these all showed inappropriate behaviours (direct contact, feeding orangutans, close proximity <5 m) providing direct evidence of non-compliance with the 10-m distance rule. Most of these photographs additionally showed orangutans performing abnormal positional behaviours such as being low to or on the ground rather than their natural high position in the canopy; being near the ground and in close proximity to humans increases the risk of anthropozoonotic disease transmission. As expected, we found a significant decrease in number of photographs that were posted following the closure, and a decrease in the proportion of photographs that showed orangutans, or tourists feeding orangutans. Tourists do not seem to perceive that they pose risks to the orangutans and therefore increased awareness, education and enforcement of rules by all stakeholders, tourism bodies and government officials need to be actioned in order to safeguard this important population, which is crucial to the future survival of the Sumatran orangutan.

Attached files


Molyneaux, Andrea
Hankinson, Emma
Kaban, Mbra
Svensson, Magdalena S.
Cheyne, Susan M.
Nijman, Vincent

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of Social Sciences


Year of publication: 2021
Date of RADAR deposit: 2021-12-08

© 2021 S. Karger AG, Basel "This is the accepted manuscript version of an article published by S. Karger AG in Folia Primatologica and available on" Commercial reuse is not allowed without permission.

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