Edited from The New York Times, April 8, 2020
By Annie Roth
Threatened and endangered animals are becoming casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rhino 911 is a nonprofit organization that provides emergency helicopter transport for rhinoceroses. Since South Africa announced a national lockdown on March 23, Rhino 911 has had to respond to a rhino poaching incident nearly every single day.
In neighboring Botswana, at least six rhinos have been poached since the country closed its borders.
These recent incidents are unusual because they occurred in tourism hot spots that, until now, were considered relatively safe havens for wildlife.
South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Kenya rely on tourism to fund wildlife conservation, but thanks to border closures and crackdowns on international travel, foreigners can’t visit national parks or conservancies.
This shines a light on the fact that Africa’s wild animals are not just protected by rangers, they’re also protected by the presence of tourists.
Poachers have normally avoided places where there are lots of tourists, but
now they are feeling free to move into locations they’ve previously avoided.
Besides empty parks, no tourists means no money. National lockdowns have severely constricted Africa’s $39 billion tourism industry, which funds wildlife conservation all across the continent.
Without revenue from tourism, many parks, private reserves and community conservancies are finding it difficult to pay employees. Paid protection has dwindled.
Rangers and private game guards have found their jobs in jeopardy. Many are being laid off. Those that are still employed are working alone.
If the economic situation doesn’t improve, not only will the poaching of rhinoceros, elephants and other iconic animals escalate, but poaching for the purpose of obtaining bushmeat will increase as well.
In the hopes of alleviating the situation, the Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based environmental organization, recently began raising money for cash-strapped parks, conservancies and private reserves in Africa that need help paying rangers and guards.