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Tourism downturn and increased poaching threatens African wildlife conservation

Rangers in South Africa, DRC and Kenya are reporting increased incidences of poaching and killing of African wildlife as tourism falters amidst the pandemic. Many conservation initiatives are funded by tourism. But now, with many countries in lockdown with travel bans, the tourism sector is in a serious downturn. Wider economic malaise has also seen animals killed for food by the hungry and desperate.

Aside from keeping themselves safe from infection at several nature conservation sites, rangers are now also becoming increasingly worried about the safety of animals at parks such as Virunga in DRC and Loisaba in Kenya. With tourism at a standstill and most people under orders to stay at home, poachers have become emboldened and more daring in their attacks. Thirteen rangers were killed this week at Virunga as they tried to assist civilians who were being attacked by militia.

In normal times travel and tourism provide millions of jobs across Africa, and with the end of lockdowns only a distant prospect, the livelihoods of both animals and people are under threat for at least another 12 months, which will include the peak tourist season from June to October this year.

Some nature reserves, such as Enduiment in Tanzania, have already made the difficult decision to lay off staff. Making a bad situation even worse: when the tourism sector does begin to recover, the animals which people travel thousands is miles to see may be severely depleted in number.

The protection of African wildlife is not just a concern about the natural capital and economic imperatives. The protection of the natural environment and wildlife is also an important plank of Africa’s sustainable future.

Highlighting the importance of biodiversity is also particularly poignant given scientists’ warnings that the coronavirus itself, as well as diseases such as Ebola and HIV, emerged from humanity’s increased infringement into previously untouched natural habitats.

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