Wildlife Conservation and COVID-19
Updated: May 13, 2020
Wildlife conservation and protection of important ecosystems from the national parks in Kenya and Tanzania to the marine protected areas at the coast, faces a renewed crisis following the collapse of ecotourism during the Corona virus pandemic.
Several private Wildlife conservation organisations (see attached) that rely heavily on funding from tourism establishments (safari camps/lodges, beach resorts, water-sports and dive centres) will be forced to reduce staff or even shut down operations completely, after border closures and worldwide travel restrictions abruptly stopped millions of Dollars of tourism related income.
The economic consequences of the Covid-19 lockdown in many countries raise fears of a surge in poaching, deforestation for charcoal burning, illegal fishing in life sustaining ecosystems, with thousands of jobs lost or at risk in the tourism sector.
We are already witnessing the economic impact, in April 2020, 12 Rangers who protect the protect the mountain Gorillas in the Virunga National Park were killed in a conflict with poachers in the DRC.
Black rhinos in the Okavango Delta have been evacuated following the killing of 6 animals in March.
As a result of the economic down turn, more people that live in and around wildlife protected areas will, sadly, rely on other activities to make a living. The loss of income from tourism to countries may result in fewer funds allocated to Government Wildlife protection departments. The impact of this would be a reduced work force and equipment for ranger and anti-poaching units, making it harder to monitor land grabbing and illegal poaching.
CEO of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Dickson Kaelo said “all bookings for this year’s key activities such as the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara had been cancelled, prompting difficult choices about staff in Kenya’s conservancies.
While elephant poaching may not escalate owing to the current suppression of international travel and negative sentiments against animal products in south-east Asia, demand for bushmeat will go up if there is nobody to monitor activities within the conservancies. Poaching for bushmeat already existed on a small scale even before the coronavirus outbreak. With more Kenyans out of work, bushmeat will be more appealing than meat sold by the licensed butcher. If the rangers have no salaries, how will they effectively monitor human activities in and out of the conservancies?”
Kenyan farmers have recently suffered a devastating locust invasion, wiping out acres of crops vital to sustaining hundreds of villages. A livestock viral outbreak in the greater Mara area contributed to a further loss of livelihood to locals, and a set back to wildlife conservation.
Kaelo said further “coronavirus will compound the effects on community-led wildlife conservation. Members of these communities may lose faith in wildlife conservation if there is no money forthcoming. In addition, people who live around these wildlife havens and looked forward to selling artefacts to tourists may resort to other income-generating activities such as farming, fuelling the never-ending human-wildlife conflicts as animals invade and destroy their new farms.”
A small ray of hope may be that while the poaching of rhinos, big cats and critically endangered species has continued during lockdown, a recent Wildlife Justice Commission report found the illegal wildlife trade had been severely disrupted by movement and travel restrictions.
Global Fishing Watch has recorded a substantial drop in fishing around the world, with fishing hours down nearly 10% from 11 March to the end of April compared with the past two years. But the drop in ecotourism has affected conservation of the world’s most precious marine ecosystems.
by Florian Schollinger
Wildlife conservation organisations Kenya, E.A: