On Tuesday 17th November 2020, conservation-led luxury travel company andBeyond brought together a range of industry leaders in wildlife conservation and biodiversity, led by Dr Sue Snyman, an expert in ecotourism and environmental education. The panel discussed the impact of Covid-19 on conservation, and shared thoughtful insights on how we can best care for Africa’s biodiversity whilst simultaneously balancing the needs of its rural populations. Here’s a short summary of what we learned…
IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON WILDLIFE & OCEAN CONSERVATION
The biggest takeaway from the discussion, reinforced by each member of the panel, was just how much of an impact the Covid-19 crisis has had on conservation in Africa. This comes as no surprise, seeing as travel and tourism consistently remain one of the key growth drivers of Africa’s economy, contributing around 8% of annual GDP. With travel restrictions bringing tourism to a standstill, it was inevitable that the effects would be felt across the continent. This sad truth was underscored by Drew McVey, WWF’s East Africa Wildlife Crime Technical Advisor, who said that GDP for East Africa is forecasted to drop 4.6% in 2020, a devastatingly huge loss.
Barry Mthembu, andBeyond Phinda’s Habitat Manager, responsible for all aspects of conservation at the Phinda Reserve, highlighted the threat to conservation efforts posed by a lack of revenue. As a Private Reserve, Phinda relies on guests to generate a revenue stream, but with government guidelines forcing the lodges to close, this revenue has been lost entirely. Even prior to the global pandemic, Africa’s conservation areas were struggling for finance, with many protected areas sadly underfunded.
Luckily, Barry was able to share some good news, drawing attention to the strong relationship Phinda share with their local community, providing many locals with employment. When the pandemic struck, there were serious concerns that widespread unemployment caused by loss of jobs in the tourism industry would give rise to an increase in poaching and other illegal activities on the reserve, carried out by locals seeking alternative sources of income. Thankfully, this worrying prediction did not come to be, and Barry accredits this to the relationship between the reserve and the local communities, which has ensured local families continue to protect and preserve the wildlife of Phinda, despite the circumstances.
The panel also discussed the repercussions of the global pandemic on ocean wildlife, emphasising the consequences of rising levels of single use plastic, much of which sadly ends up in our oceans. As Covid-19 cases rose, global oil prices dropped, prompting a mass increase in plastic production due to the usage of oil as a vital ingredient in its production. This, combined with an increased demand for plastic to produce PPE and disposable facemasks, has given rise to new form of plastic pollution caused by the bi-products of Covid-19.
HOW WE CAN CONTINUE TO CARE FOR THE CONTINENT’S BIODIVERISTY WHILST BALANCING THE URGENT NEEDS OF ITS RURAL POPULATIONS
Looking to the future, it is clear that there is a delicate balance to be achieved between meeting the urgent needs of Africa’s rural communities whilst continuing to protect the continent’s delicate ecosystem. The two go hand in hand, for if the wildlife of Africa’s conservation areas is thriving, tourism will increase and create more job opportunities for locals.
Fran Read, Global Media Manager of African Parks, a non-governmental organisation focused on conservation in South Africa, emphasised the importance of not compromising on conservation efforts in a bid to help the economy recover. As travel restrictions ease, there may be temptation to maximise tourism in order to escalate income and restore the economy. However, it is crucial that tourism brands in Africa remain mindful of the toll that high levels of tourists take on the delicate ecosystems of Africa’s game reserves, and keep this at the forefront of their minds when resuming tourism activity.
With hopes of 2021 being a brighter year for travel, we look forward to seeing Africa’s tourism industry re-opening safely and responsibly, integrating local communities into the re-opening of conservation areas in a collaborative, and mutually beneficial effort to get Africa’s tourism industry back on its feet.
To watch the full episode and to learn more about the expert panel, head to the andBeyond website: https://bit.ly/3o364am