From the vast plains of the Masai Mara in Kenya to the delicate corals of Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles, conservation work to protect some of the world's most important ecosystems is facing a crisis following an ecotourism collapse during the Covid pandemic. 19.
Organizations that rely on visitors to fund critically endangered species and rare habitats projects could be forced to close, according to wildlife NGOs, after border closures and travel restrictions around the world abruptly halted millions of people. pounds of tourism revenue.
Throughout the pandemic, scientists have repeatedly urged humanity to reestablish its relationship with nature or suffer worse outbreaks. But the economic fallout from the Covid-19 lockdown has heightened fears of an increase in poaching, illegal fishing, and deforestation in life-sustaining ecosystems, with tens of thousands of ecotourism jobs at risk across the world.
“It is true that the global focus now is to protect human lives in this devastating pandemic. However, where we work, we are already witnessing its economic impact, particularly in areas where communities rely heavily on ecotourism for their livelihoods, "said Mike Barrett, executive director for science and conservation at WWF UK.
In Cambodia, three critically endangered giant ibis were killed for meat in early April following the collapse of the local tourism industry, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. In central Africa, measures to protect mountain gorillas from the virus have led to a drop in vital income for visitors. Twelve rangers guarding the Virunga National Park, where gorillas live, were killed in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo last month.
"It can take years before these places can fully recover, increasing the risk of people relying on other activities for a living, putting unsustainable pressure on natural resources," said Bartlett. "Also, it is much more difficult today to control land grabbing and illegal hunting."
While the poaching of rhinos, big cats, and critically endangered species has continued during the shutdown, a recent report from the Wildlife Justice Commission found that the illegal wildlife trade had been severely disrupted by movement and travel restrictions. .
But conservationists fear an explosion of poaching if organizations are forced to fire rangers and suspend surveillance programs. Black rhinos in Botswana's Okavango Delta were evacuated after at least six were killed by poachers in March.
Dickson Kaelo, executive director of the Kenya Wildlife Conservation Association, said that all reserves for this year's key activities, such as the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara, had been canceled, prompting difficult decisions about the Kenyan Conservation Staff.
“While elephant poaching may not increase due to the current suppression of international travel and negative sentiments against animal products in Southeast Asia, the demand for bushmeat will increase if there is no one to monitor activities within. conservation ”, he said.
“Poaching for bushmeat already existed on a small scale even before the coronavirus outbreak. With more Kenyans out of work, bushmeat will be more attractive than meat sold by the licensed butcher. If park rangers don't have salaries, how are they going to effectively monitor human activities inside and outside the conservancies?
Wildlife conservation in Kenya had already suffered a series of setbacks following a devastating locust invasion and a viral outbreak among livestock in the Greater Mara Conservation Area. Kaelo said that the coronavirus will exacerbate the effects on community-led wildlife conservation.
“Members of these communities can lose faith in conserving wildlife if money is not available. Additionally, people living around these wildlife havens and hoping to sell artifacts to tourists may turn to other income-generating activities such as agriculture, fueling endless human-wildlife conflicts as animals invade and destroy their animals. new farms, ”he said.
In Colombia, the big cat conservation organization Panthera has seen an increase in poaching of big cats, with two jaguars, an ocelot and a cougar killed in recent weeks. The organization has experienced funding delays during the pandemic.
While rangers are forced to stay home, Dr. Esteban Payán, director of the jaguar program in the region, said he was concerned about illegal land grabbing and intentional forest fires.
“My worst fear after the pandemic is that once we get out, we will find acres and acres of new fenced farmland where you don't know who they are or what is happening. There is rampant deforestation in Colombia right now in the Amazon.
“That worries me more than the increase in poaching. Why Due to the scale, size and speed of deforestation and fires. That only destroys the habitat. And with the habitat, there the jaguars go. You may not see a bloody animal on the ground with a bullet, but it is worse because they are homeless and are burned, burned alive or have no prey.
Global Fishing Watch has recorded a substantial drop in fishing worldwide, with fishing hours falling nearly 10% from March 11 to the end of April compared to the last two years. But the decline in ecotourism has affected the conservation of the world's most precious marine ecosystems.
Dr Fanny Douvere, coordinator of Unesco's marine program for 50 world heritage sites, including the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands and the West Norwegian Fjords, warned of the consequences of the recession.
“We should be particularly concerned about those sites that rely heavily on tourism income to finance some of their operations. In the Seychelles, for example, the Aldabra Atoll is not sure how it will continue its monitoring because it is fully funded by tourism revenue, "he said.
"As soon as tourism revenues collapse, many sites cannot continue to be conserved, or at least part of it," he closed.