What Impact Has Covid19 had on Conservation in Africa?

Every year, vast plains of East Africa boasts the show of a lifetime: the Great Migration of 1.5million wildebeest, 350,000 gazelle, 200,000 zebras, and thousands of eland and ungulates (hoofed animals). This incredible spectacle spans across 3000km and is normally witnessed by 140,000 tourists from across the world. This year, these animals made most of their trek alone. Kenya’s first covid-19 case was reported on 13th of March. The country, much like the rest of the world, was subsequently shut down, with the country’s international borders closed until as recently as 1st August 2020. What has the closure and subsequent shutdown of tourism meant for wildlife across Africa, and what impact has Covid19 had on conservation?

The Great Migration, viewed by hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. Image by AndBeyond


Wildlife tourism and conservation are inextricably linked. In its simplest form, visiting guests pay National Park entry fees and conservation levies, which directly support conservation initiatives in the area. Without the tourism industry, many conservation efforts across Africa have seen their funding cut significantly, directly affecting their ability to protect wildlife.

Communities, Covid and Wildlife – what’s the link?

Eco-tourism, or tourism that is driven by the desire to protect the environment, impacts so many aspects of African communities.  In Kenya, tourism supports 1.5 million jobs, particularly in rural areas, and makes up a significant portion of the service sector. The people in these countries not only rely on salaries from various lodges and businesses, but also tourism revenue from wildlife safaris. A vast majority of people in these rural communities are cattle herders and receive compensation for lost grazing land (which is used for ecotourism instead). This creates a mutually beneficial system that also disincentivizes poaching (by putting a value on wildlife), while also providing the community with a livelihood. Local people are employed as camp managers, guides, in conservation teams, and as lodge staff, among many other work opportunities. Without the income from tourism, these people lose their livelihoods and the entire community is affected. Furthermore, tourism provides much more than employment - it also contributes directly to education & healthcare in rural communities, infrastructure and empowers the local community.

Has Covid19 affected poaching and wildlife?

In addition to the economic and community impacts caused by Covid-19 , there have also bee nmore direct effects on wildlife itself. Early reports traced the disease back to illegally trafficked wildlife (ranging from originating from bats, pangolins to other African species), and for a short while conservationists rejoiced, hoping that this would mean a marked reduction in illegally traffic animals, for fear they were diseased. In addition, the raised profile of the number of illegally trafficked animals and it’s negative affects on humans was hoped to help reduce wildlife trade.  Unfortunately, that hope was short lived. Dan Challender, a Zoologist from Oxford University, specialises in illegal wildlife trade and is concerned that poaching of animals such as the pangolin is, in fact, on the rise. Pangolins are normally poached for their meat or for illegal trade but Challender is concerned now that more pangolins might be killed as people are fearful that they are carriers of the corona virus.

Smuggled pangolins have been found to carry viruses closely related to the one sweeping the world. Image by Getty Images

Poaching has forever been an issue being fought against by conservationists – it is a lucrative way for desperate people and families to raise money quickly, and it is also a direct source of food for the hungry. With the mass increase in unemployment caused by Covid19, subsistence poaching has seen a dramatic rise, as has the number of reported animals caught in snares, particularly hyena. (If you are interested in supporting our Rapid Response Fund that assists in de-snaring these animals, please donate HERE)

And the issue of mass unemployment and desperation goes beyond the snaring of wildlife. According to Emmanuel Fundira, the president of the Safari Operator’s Association of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe has seen an increase in human-wildlife conflict during the past few months. Around 3 million people live in proximity to wild animals and with the country’s conservation programs on the back-burner, it has proved a challenge to support both wildlife and communities during this difficult time. The issue is exacerbated where a family’s crop is their sole source of food and income, and they thus retaliate fiercely when their crops or livestock are attacked.

An elephant killed by a farmer protecting his crops. Image by Namibian Broadcasting Corporation.

In terms of syndicate poaching (rhino horn and ivory), in Botswana, at least six rhinos have fallen victim to poaching since tourism has been shut down. Botswana’s security forces have apprehended five suspected poachers in connection to two poaching incidents. In northwest South Africa, at least nine rhinos have been killed. All of these instances took place in areas that were previously bustling with tourists and rangers and were considered safe havens for animals. The rangers in the African reserves are working hard, but the lack of resources across the parks provide poachers with a serious advantage.

“Closure of international borders has been a lifeline for rhinos and elephants”

That said, despite these poaching instances, Minister Barbara Creecy, (Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries in South Africa) sheds a positive light on the matter. She believes that the closure of borders and the complete shutdown of international travel has removed the mode of transport for international poaching syndicates. So whilst we have seen poaching continue in some areas, in others,  decreased levels of poaching have been recorded (in the Kruger National Park for example) which provides at least some hope.

The future of conservation and travel

Without being able to collect conservation levies, nor spread knowledge and awareness to visiting tourists, conservationists and reserves have had to get creative and think out of the box with ways to bring in support. Many conservation organisations have instituted online fundraisers to promote funding and create awareness. Lodges Africa wide have also jumped on the idea of “arm-chair safaris”, streaming live safaris to the world, trying to keep guests connected to wildlife in Africa and inspire them to travel again when borders re-open.  

And what of future travel? Covid has undoubtedly helped people around the world better understand how their tourism dollars are being used to directly protect and conserve wildlife in Africa. It is now up to each and every one of us to choose to travel with purpose, being selective of where we choose to visit, knowing that even being there will help save wildlife.   

How can you help support wildlife conservation?

Do you want to get involved, help make a difference?  Or perhaps you are interested in going on safari to witness Africa’s most spectacular wildlife and support it’s protection while you travel?

Here’s how:

1)    You can donate to the Rapid Response Fund and help contribute to emergency wildlife work that literally saves lives!

2)    Go on a safari – as  countries begin to open up and travel becomes a part of our lives again, you can book a safari that will allow you to experience the magic first-hand – all the while giving back to communities and key conservation projects.

3)    Shop for wildlife – our shop allows you to donate important conservation gear for specific wildlife projects that are near and dear to you.

Although Covid-19 has changed our lives and impacted conservation efforts across the continent, we remain hopeful. The fight for wildlife and nature in Africa lives on and through passion and positive action, conservation will come out the other side!

Written by Michelle Pengilly

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