UPDATE 24. April 2020: ‘Filthy bloody business:’ Poachers kill more animals as coronavirus crushes tourism to Africa
The coronavirus threat to wildlife tourism and conservation
By Midori Paxton - 21. April 2020
I wrote a Global Guide to Ecotourism when I was a young journalist in Japan. The premise now sounds obvious but in Japan at that time it was still a new concept. Tourism relies on its destination’s natural and human assets. It should not destroy these assets but sustain, improve and expand them, for the benefit of all.
One of the many countries I visited for that book was Namibia. Its amazing people and wildlife really hooked me in, and I returned home and worked in conservation and development for a decade until 2010. The country had extraordinary natural assets and was benefiting tremendously from conserving them. Community involvement was an essential ingredient in this success story.
Tourism may sound rather frivolous. Wildlife tourism fringe-frivolous! But statistics indicate that it is in fact one of the most influential and world-shaping of human industries.
Travel and tourism accounts for 10.3 percent of global GDP, which makes the sector larger than agriculture. In 2019 alone, it created one in four new jobs. The economic contribution of wildlife tourism is equally impressive. It came to US$343.6 billion (0.4 percent of global GDP) in 2018. Wildlife tourism supported 21.8 million jobs across the world, or 6.8 percent of total travel and tourism jobs. The percentage is much higher in Africa, at 36.3 percent.
Tourism has been central to thousands of conservation projects that have generated jobs and income, empowering rural women and men. It has become a key argument in the “conserve or exploit” debate.
Back to Namibia. Tourism, primarily nature-based, is the second largest economic sector, accounting for15.4 percent of total employment and 14.7 percent of the national GDP. Tourism is a core part of the country’s poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation strategy. One colleague said that community-based tourism is the most effective way to redistribute income from the wealthy to the less wealthy and poor.
This has made it possible for Namibia to gazette nearly 50 percent of its land for conservation-oriented management, 20 percent of which comprises 86 communal conservancies harbouring the flagship safari species, including desert-adapted elephants, lions, and the world’s largest population of black rhinos and cheetahs. Communities are given the right to benefits from wildlife, which empowers them to develop enterprises and generate much-needed employment and opportunities. Poachers became entrepreneurs and wildlife protectors, because people saw wildlife as their assets.
Photo: Midori Paxton
Then came COVID-19; lockdowns, travel paralysis and the end of an economic lifeline for hundreds of millions. The estimated impact on travel and tourism is staggering. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that up to 75 million jobs are at immediate risk, and anticipates an economic loss of up to US$2.1 trillion. The recovery time after disease outbreaks has in the past averaged around 19.4 months—everything doesn’t return to normal the day after the lockdown is lifted.
In Namibia it means the loss of US$3.2 million in annual tourism revenue, and an additional US$3.5 million loss of salaries to staff living in conservancies. Tens of thousands of jobs are in jeopardy, including community game guards, conservancy staff, and those providing goods and services.
The 30-year effort to build Namibia’s communal conservancy programme is under severe threat. And this is happening across Africa and beyond. Recognizing that, our partnership initiative The Lion’s Share has just announced a call for proposals for COVID Emergency Grants to build the resilience of communities whose livelihoods depend on wildlife tourism. It will help, but much more needs to be done.
COVID-19 is a human health crisis and is also a colossal and unprecedented assault on human behavioural norms, movement, the tourism industry and all the conservation efforts that depend on it. There have been reports from around the world of increased poaching by communities that have lost their jobs and livelihoods. This once again raises the spectre of wildlife to human pathogen infection and future zoonotic pandemics such as COVID-19, which are transmitted from wildlife to humans.
There has been a growing debate on banning of wildlife trade to prevent future pandemics. Governments and agencies are discussing COVID-19 recovery and how countries can rebuild their economies, and redirect recovery towards establishing a sustainable and just world in the Decade of Action for Sustainable Development Goals.
Given its immense contribution to poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation, the nature and wildlife-based tourism sector must be viewed as a large corporation employing tens of millions of people, many of them vulnerable, and living in rural areas. This pandemic is affecting directly and seriously at least 100 million people who depend on the wildlife economy, including informal suppliers to the economy and their families. Serious support is required for this sector, and not just for airlines, large farms and corporations.
Investing in communities that protect nature
The World Economic Forum has ranked nature loss as one of the top global risks. COVID-19 has shown us why. Nature loss and wildlife consumption are the root cause of the emergence of zoonotic infectious diseases, such as coronavirus, Ebola and HIV/AIDS.
Now there are even more pressing reasons to invest in communities that protect nature through wildlife tourism and conservation. COVID-19 recovery packages must include this investment. Nature underpins people’s survival, wellbeing and sustainable development. Intact nature gives us air, water and food and serves as a “natural vaccine” to reduce the frequency and intensity of future outbreaks of zoonotic pandemics. This will save tens of trillions of dollars in coming decades and avoid misery for billions of people. Doesn’t it sound like a no brainer?
Midori Paxton - Head of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, UNDP
N.B.: The notion implicated in the article below, whereby U.S. military veterans would go to Africa to protect wildlife is not supported by ECOTERRA Intl., even if it is said that these missions would only be "Advice, Assist, Accompany" - AAA-missions. Reason is that too many African security forces trained by Israeli, former East-German, Russian, Cuban or U.S. "specialists have turned into bloody criminals and commit today human rights violations of the worst kind throughout Africa. In addition we have court and witness reports stating that the "helpers" then also got involved in torture o suspecte "poachers" and even killed. Nature protection must be done by the local communities and the Indigenous people must be the defenders.
‘Filthy bloody business:’ Poachers kill more animals as coronavirus crushes tourism to Africa
Emma Newburger - 24. April 2020
- As the coronavirus pandemic halts tourism to Africa, poachers are encroaching on land and killing rhinos in travel hot spots now devoid of visitors and safari guides.
- In Botswana, at least six rhinos have been poached since the virus shut down tourism there. In the northwest South Africa, at least nine rhinos have been killed since the virus lockdown.
- “It’s a bloody calamity. It’s an absolute crisis,” said Map Ives, founder of Rhino Conservation Botswana, a nonprofit organization.
Orphaned rhinos are seen amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a sanctuary for rhinos orphaned by poaching, in Mookgopong, Limpopo province, South Africa April 17, 2020. Siphiwe Sibeko | Reuters
Ryan Tate is supposed to be in South Africa right now helping to fight off poachers who hack horns off rhinos and kill elephants for their ivory tusks.
But since the country announced a national lockdown in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Tate is stuck in the U.S. He can’t join his team out in South Africa’s wilderness and can’t meet with private donors in the U.S. for his anti-poaching nonprofit organization, which is seeing donations dry up.
“It’s a helpless feeling,” said Tate, a 35-year former Marine and the founder of VetPaw, a group of American military veterans who fight poachers in a remote private reserve in the far north of South Africa.
“Poaching doesn’t stop just because there’s a virus — if anything, it picks up,” he said.
Although poaching is not uncommon in Africa, poachers during the coronavirus pandemic have encroached on land they wouldn’t normally visit and killed rhinos in tourism hot spots now devoid of visitors and safari guides.
In Botswana, at least six rhinos have been poached since the virus shut down tourism. Botswana’s security forces in April shot and killed five suspected poachers in two incidents. In northwest South Africa, at least nine rhinos have been killed since the virus lockdown. All the poaching took place in what were previously tourism areas that were safe for animals to roam.
“It’s a bloody calamity. It’s an absolute crisis,” Map Ives, founder of Rhino Conservation Botswana, a nonprofit organization, said of poaching across the continent.
File photo of skulls of White Rhinos and the snares that have entrapped them stand as a stark reminder of the ongoing battle in South Africa to protect these majestic, gentle giants of the African bush. Ilan Godfrey | Getty Images
There are still rangers in the African reserves, but the loss of tourist vehicles in parks provide poachers a significant advantage.
“The poachers have been emboldened because the playing field is in their favor and they won’t have as many problems moving around,” said Ives, who has lived on the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana for four decades but is stranded in South Carolina due to travel restrictions.
Highly organized illegal poaching threatens to send black and white rhinos, elephants and other African wildlife into extinction over the next several decades. The black rhino population has plummeted 97.6% since 1960 and the lion population is down 43% in the last 21 years, according to the World Wildlife Fund. At least 35,000 African elephants are killed each year and roughly only 1,000 mountain gorillas and 2,000 Grevy’s zebras remain on the continent.
“They are professional and adept at running off with rhino horns in minutes and dodging security forces. They are masters at evading detection,” he said. “It’s a filthy bloody business.”
File photos of a cloth covering the eyes of tranquilised rhino is used by rangers to keep the animal calm during a large scale anti-poaching campaign launched in Kruger National Park in South Africa. Gallo Images | Getty Images
Since Botswana’s booming tourism industry collapsed because of the virus lockdown, Ives has seen an anecdotal rise in rhino and bush meat poaching incidents. His company is running short of cash as donations dry up amid the global lockdown, and that may result in reduced patrols as a result.
“We lost hundreds of sets of eyes and ears in the delta,” Ives said. “I’m sure poachers know this — they watch these camps closely and see tourism activity.”
Africa’s $39.2 billion tourism industry is also vital in funding wildlife conservation efforts across the continent.
Africa received 62.5 million visitors, creating 9.1 million direct jobs in travel and tourism sectors in 2015, according to estimates from the African Development Bank.
Funding from sources like national park fees and safari rides are vital to wildlife conservation in Africa.
But now people working in tourism are being laid off because of the pandemic and national parks that provide wildlife a safe place from poachers are losing revenue. All three national parks in Rwanda have temporarily closed, along with Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kruger National Park in South Africa.
“There’s a lot of people struggling in Africa, a lot of private reserves that have helped save a few species including rhinos,” said Tate. “Now they don’t have that ecotourism they depend on, it’s gone. There’s going to be a lot of damage done from this.”
There’s also a major concern that as the coronavirus harms African economies and sharply raises unemployment levels, people will become desperate for income streams and pursue poaching to make a living.
The rangers of the dog squad search a motorcycle taxi for pangolin scales or hunting ammunition in the Dzanga-Sangha Park, in Bayanga, on March 14, 2020. The 4 species of African pangolins are present in the Central African Republic and protected by law since 2019. Florent Vergnes | AFP | Getty Images
Africa reported a 43% jump in coronavirus cases over the last week, according to Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization has warned that the continent of 1.3 billion people could become the next epicenter of the outbreak, potentially pushing 30 million people into poverty.
Conservationists expect that in addition to professional poachers killing more animals, countries across Africa will experience a massive surge in bush meat poaching by average people since it’s cheaper to kill animals for meat than to buy it.
“Why do criminals commit acts of crime? They do it because they’re desperate and it’s a quick easy means for money,” Ryan said. “Poaching is no different. There’s a lot of desperate people out there because of the virus and [poaching] will absolutely pick up.”
Emma Newburger @emma_newburger