Fears of surge in elephant poaching as coronavirus halts tourism
Lockdown cripples the ecotourism industry, which is central to conservation efforts. This in turn leads to new challenges in protecting the vulnerable African elephant. “96 elephants were killed in Africa, every single day, prior to the pandemic. That number could see a dramatic rise as a result of the pandemic,” warns Holly Budge, Founder of How Many Elephants, a UK-based charity, to protect elephants in Africa and support rangers who defend them.
Tourism is one of the most important industries in Africa and contributed 8.5% ($194.2bn) of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). According to the African Travel & Tourism Association, Africa was also the second-fastest growing tourism region in the world, with a 5.6% growth rate in 2018 against a global average 3.9%.
Without tourism revenue and the jobs that it supports, the African economy is set to plummet. A spike in poaching will be seen, as a knock-on effect. Renowned Conservationist and travel expert, Colin Bell explains, “Without tourism, there is no money left for managing Africa’s parks, nor for conservation work and most importantly, for neighbouring rural communities. When they lose their jobs and incomes, they are forced to turn to rhinos and elephants for bushmeat”.
Reduced vigilance in tourist hotspots with a high density of wildlife has meant that, “poachers can operate with impunity, knowing they won’t be disturbed, as we are already seeing in some places,” says Niall McCann, Founder of National Park Rescue.
Anti-poaching teams provide a registered essential service, yet there are no allocated government subsidies, at this crucial time, for these front-line workers. Not only are they trying to protect the wildlife, but they have the added worry of protecting themselves against the virus.
FINANCIAL AID NEEDED
Craig Spencer, Founder of The Black Mambas, says, “There is no financial assistance to this sector during the lockdown.” It is imperative that funds are raised to support these organisations so they can continue to patrol and defend the wildlife. But the bigger picture remains; there are front line workers operating in Africa without government subsidies, making it harder for their work to continue.
Holly Budge adds, “Navigating the fundraising space is challenging right now as many people are looking inwards. But the bigger picture remains; there are front line workers operating in Africa without government subsidies, making it harder for their work to continue. We, at How Many Elephants, are drawing on every available resource to try and help these workers continue with their vital work.”
Every penny raised by How Many Elephants is used efficiently on the front line by The Black Mambas in South Africa, National Park Rescue and Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust in Zimbabwe.
The coronavirus has put the spotlight on the illegal wildlife trade, which is the fourth largest transnational organised crime in the world; this could be a watershed moment for animal conservation.
Budge adds, “Every single species – from the bee to the largest land-mammal, such as the elephant – plays a unique part in the ecosystem. The extinction of a single species can spell havoc for the environment.” As we grapple with the impact of the virus and the uncertainty of going back to life as we knew it, it’s imperative we act now to build a more sustainable future.