Great apes are humans’ closest relatives. But unlike humans, this group of species – from bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees – are all endangered and are on the brink of extinction.

Live Science reported that although humans and apes do not share the same language or society, humans share 98 percent of their DNA with chimpanzees, which means the deadly coronavirus threat can also pose great danger to their health as they are also susceptible to the same respiratory illnesses.

“Transmission of even mild human pathogenst to apes can lead to moderate-to-severe outcomes,” conservation experts from the Great Ape Health Consortium wrote in a letter published in the journal Nature.

Though there are still no clear evidence that apes could be affected by the disease, representatives of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission Health Specialist Group and the Primate Specialist Group said it is safest to assume that great apes are susceptible to the infection.

“As leading experts in the conservation and health of these animals, we urge governments, conservation practitioners, researchers, tourism professionals and funding agencies to reduce the risk of introducing the virus into these endangered species,” the experts said in a statement.

They have also issued guidelines so people can reduce the risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus to the great apes. They recommended wearing clean clothing and disinfecting footwear before going near the animals. Staff needs to stay at least seven meters (23 feet) away from them, but 10 meters (33 feet) is “strongly advised.”

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