We must diversify and innovate (commentary)

  • Protected areas, the ecotourism industry and many conservation initiatives and communities, which depend on international tourism, suffered a financial blow when the COVID-19 closures began. As poverty increased in these areas, there has been an increase in poaching in protected areas in Africa, including Kafue National Park in Zambia.
  • Long before the emergence of COVID-19, the conservation community suffered from a chronic scarcity of resources; with the pandemic, protected areas and associated communities experienced a sharp decline in investments.
  • With examples from around the world, philanthropist Jon Ayers and Panthera CEO Frederic Launay are calling for diverse and innovative measures to increase funding and support for conservation communities.
  • This message is a comment. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

The loss of lioness Mukambi River Pride last June was sobering evidence that the shock wave from COVID-19 had reached the heart and wildlife of Kafue National Park in Zambia. All that was left of this once magnificent animal was its skin, pockmarked with spears and large boulders thrown at its body, lying next to the poacher’s snare that had wrapped around its paw, and the GPS collar. who had revealed so much about the contribution of his pride to Kafue. Before setting the scene on fire, poachers took almost every part of his body, presumably to sell them through the illegal wildlife trade.

Attached to the collar for more than two years, Mukambi’s lioness was a star of the Zambian Carnivore Program’s scientific monitoring program and a vital breeding member of her pride. Shortly after, another lioness from Kafue was trapped, just days after receiving a GPS collar. Both were poached in “intensive protection areas”, where vigorous anti-poaching efforts virtually eradicated lion traps in 2019.

However, as COVID took hold, park boundary scans recovered 136 traps from May to August 2020, compared to just 25 collected during the same period in 2019. Bushmeat seizures have come close. from 100 pounds in 2019 to over 3,300 pounds in 2020. Far from an outlier, many once-secure wild animal homes across the world have followed suit.

Lionesses in Kafue National Park. Image by Mosi Lager via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

When the lockdown began, the lucrative tap of international tourism on which protected areas, the ecotourism industry and many conservation initiatives and communities depend was cut. As revenue sources and ecotourism revenues dried up, poverty increased in already vulnerable communities living near or within protected areas. Without tourists’ extra eyes on nature and with fewer resources to support wildlife keepers willing to risk COVID for conservation, it was like leaving the front door open. Emboldened poachers and those seeking to convert wild lands for their own purposes, including many with no alternative for survival, entered straight in.

The consequences of COVID-19 have shown that conservation at the 21st century must be turned into a century built on a foundation of unwavering continuity of global funding, independence for conservation programs and communities, an imaginative embrace for new funding opportunities and the adaptability of ecotourism initiatives and existing conservation supporting the survival of the creatures and wild places of our planet.

Continuity of capital

Long before the advent of COVID-19, the conservation community suffered from a chronic shortage of resources, with species conservation – one of the ultimate means of preserving the planet’s biodiversity – receiving only a fraction of global philanthropic funding. While estimates suggest that more than $ 1 billion is needed each year to protect lions in African national parks, only 20% of these areas have sufficient funds to do so.

Particularly in times of crisis, therefore, an acute doubling of investment – a COVID-19 bailout, even – for protected areas, neighboring communities and conservation is unequivocally essential on the part of international aid organizations, foundations and state departments. Provisional flexibility regarding what contributions directly support is paramount, allowing funds to shift from species survival activities to those which also support the survival of nature custodians. Just like some nations temporarily compensated those who are unemployed because of the pandemic, the rangers deserve much more than leave.

However, the reverse scenario occurred with a global survey revealing that more than one in four foresters have had their pay reduced or delayed. Almost 20% of rangers reported that colleagues had lost their jobs due to budget cuts related to COVID-19, although many continued to work without a contract while dealing with pandemic prevention awareness, delivery of food rations and increase in environmental crimes.

Diversify or die

The old adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” has never been truer. After nearly two years, it is clear that ecotourism is not the silver bullet in still supporting conservation programs and communities sharing their homes with wildlife. A diversity of funding sources – the more the merrier – offering alternatives to ecotourism is essential to provide communities and conservation with the financial independence and resilience needed in times of crisis and not.

Well prepared for emergencies, North East India first “green village” maintain food security and income through eco-responsible agriculture, animal husbandry and nurseries. In northern Mozambique, additional livelihoods initiatives have supported the community of Niassa, including a beekeeping business providing income and mitigating elephant conflict through beehive fencing and a program to breed small animals for consumption and sale of meat.

Niassa, Mozambique. Additional livelihood initiatives supported the Niassa community during an emergency. Image by Jcornelius via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The adoption of alternative livelihood initiatives must be accompanied by an optimistic imagination to new funding opportunities. One of those concepts is the implementation of 401Ks for Nature – community level, out of sight, out of the mind of endowment or emergency funds. Loans and investments intended for green economies support the conservation of biodiversity as well as the implementation of a COVID-19 Tourism Tax Regime are additional considerations.

With the removal of the urge to travel the world, virtual tourism has exploded, a trend that not enough ecotourism and conservation nations and organizations have taken advantage of. A replicable operation, ecotourism offers virtual tours of Dian Fossey’s Tomb and Virunga Mountain Gorilla House, among other sites, all for the (encouraged) conservation benefit.

Innovate or die

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development recently estimated that the global economy could lose $ 4 trillion due to the impact of the pandemic on tourism. Seeing the writing on the wall, ecotourism and conservation initiatives that quickly grasped the concept of ‘innovate or die’ are among those that have survived the pandemic so far.

Think local rather than global, Costa Rica declared Monday a national holiday to encourage citizens’ long weekends, while Thailand has allocated $ 700 million to boost domestic tourism. For the foreseeable future, countries would do well to invest in marketing campaigns encouraging tourism to the country, with operators changing expectations and offerings of activities, prices and accommodation as we weather the COVID-tsunami. 19.

In the triage period, conservation organizations also need to adapt quickly, focusing their protection efforts on specific areas and populations that need them most.

Known as the “halo approach,” this method is one of the reasons the lions – the kings and queens of Kafue – are with us today. After losing two lionesses at the start of the pandemic, Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife, the Zambian Carnivore Program and Panthera have created two conservation teams dedicated solely to GPS tracking and protecting key prides of Kafue, focusing on sweeping the traps. Many COVID crisis relief grants have been a game-changer for capacity on the ground, as has the irreplaceable foundation of strong local partnerships.

Remarkably, at the height of the pandemic, Kafue’s kings and queens flourished, with the number of lions doubling in one protection zone and increasing in another from 2019 to 2020. Since the lioness traps in the summer of 2020, no other lion or wild animal was lost in the traps. in these areas, and 88% of the cubs survived Kafue’s rainy season.

With the explosion of the most contagious Delta variant, every headline suggests this pandemic is far from over. But a day will come when we will not be afraid to leave our homes in search of the wild corners of the world. As we continue to heal our wounds, let’s take a page from Kafue’s playbook, using that time wisely to rewrite the future of conservation in a world where people and wildlife – all kings and queens of the world. the planet – thrive together.

Banner image of a lioness in Kafue National Park by Mosi Lager via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

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