The effects of the pandemic on conservation
The COVID19 outbreak has led to international travel restrictions and lockdowns across the world. This has resulted in a lack of tourists and therefore an absence of money that is usually generated by the wildlife tourism industry. Wildlife-based tourism normally generates $29 billion dollars a year and employs 3.6 million people. It finances conservation efforts and strengthens local economies by providing jobs for rural populations. Since the pandemic outbreak, 90% of African wildlife tour operators have experienced a decline in bookings greater than 75%.
The financial revenue created by tourism helps governments to justify protecting wildlife habitats. Economic decline as a result of the pandemic and the cost of relief measures means that there will be funding cuts. For many governments, conservation is not seen as a priority in terms of pandemic relief. Also, there is reduced funding for conservation from foreign investors because of global collapsing economies and shifting priorities. Normally, donor contributions account for 32% of conservation funding.
With no money flowing in, many anti-poaching patrols cannot be paid, which means that poachers can enter protected habitats without being seen. As a result, there has been a significant increase in bushmeat poaching. This is partly because of an increase in poverty as a result of the pandemic, which may also lead to small-scale mining and agricultural conversion (when trees are cut down to make way for land that can be farmed) out of necessity.
There have been some positive effects from the lockdowns. Reduced global industrial activity and transport have led to lower air pollution levels and less exploitation of natural resources. Also, some countries, such as China and Vietnam, have introduced restrictions on wild animal trading, which could reduce poaching in Africa by removing the demand for illegally-sourced products that are sold in Asian markets. However, these outcomes are probably only temporary and may well reverse once the pandemic ends.
How can we reduce the risks?
It is important that at this time the conservation crisis is not overlooked. Supporting conservation efforts now will aid long-term economic recovery by bolstering tourism, which will bring in money and create jobs. While there are financial cuts, critical conservation activities, such as anti-poaching, must be prioritised. Also, steps must be taken to defend against future disease outbreaks, such as stopping encroachment (humans entering wild areas). Encroachment increases contact between human and animal populations, which can lead to the spread of new diseases.