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COVID-19’s impact on tourism economy in southern Africa impacts rhino protection: IRF

India Blooms News Service | @indiablooms | 02 May 2020, 04:15 am

Strasburg/IBNS: In Africa, wildlife protection and conservation efforts are often funded by tourism income. With COVID-19 lockdowns in place leading to a complete halt in tourism, reserves are facing serious budget shortfalls.

While reserves are doing their best to keep team members employed, some reserves are already asking staff to work for reduced pay. Reduced income also means that health and safety equipment to mitigate COVID-19’s spread are often not available to staff.

“The International Rhino Foundation (IRF) has been in close contact with its partners in Africa to assess short term needs,” says CeCe Sieffert, acting executive director. “It is critical that monitoring and protection activities continue uninterrupted to ensure the safety of rhinos in southern Africa.”

To help bridge the gap in lost tourism revenue and other COVID-19 impact, IRF has established the Reserve Relief Fund.

The fund will make grants on a rolling monthly basis to organizations to help pay staff salaries, purchase health and safety equipment, and keep rhino protection units in the field where they are needed.

In South Africa, the communities near reserves are dependent on tourism for the jobs this creates within the reserves, or for opportunities created outside. However, the hard lockdown since March 27 has had dire consequences for the economy, business, and job security in South Africa.

Poaching at a national scale in South Africa is down because of the lockdown. “Quite honestly, we expected the worst, but South Africa’s announcement of a hard lockdown and the way it has been enforced with a police and military presence on the roads has made it risky and difficult for poaching groups to travel,” said Sieffert. “There have been incidents, but by far fewer over the lockdown period than normal and definitely far less than expected. However, the longer the lockdown continues, risks will increase as desperation also rises.”

The lockdown has especially affected the poorest of the poor and the small, informal economies within community areas. Hungry and desperate communities along the boundaries may turn to bushmeat poaching.

“It is critical for supporters to mobilize during this critical time to fill the gaps being created by the lack of tourism,” said Sieffert. “Traditionally, tourists and guides have also been additional eyes and ears in the field; their presence was a poaching deterrent. Now the rhinos and other wildlife are reliant solely on rangers.”

The demand for rhino horn in illegal markets is always a threat to wild rhinos. There are reports of late that Chinese National Health Commission recommended use of bear bile extract as medicine for COVID-19 which may have encouraged wildlife smugglers to seek rhino horn as a mistaken treatment as well.

IRF has traditionally celebrated May 5th with “Cinco de Rhino”, a party for a purpose fundraiser. With social distancing and stay at home orders in place, this year the event will go online with virtual happy hours. The day is also a national Day of Giving. 

“All funds raised for Cinco de Rhino this year will go to the Reserve Relief Fund to support salaries and health and safety needs for the dedicated men and women who continue to ensure that rhinos and other endangered species will survive,” said Sieffert.