Coronavirus: How does COVID-19 affect wildlife and conservation?
Apart from some positive environmental developments that go with the outbreak of COVID-19, the worldwide corona lockdown has also caused a global threat to conservation and wildlife. Learn more in our blog
Due to COVID-19 the industry worldwide has come to hold. Air pollution has declined rapidly, which not only benefits the human health but also animals, for example wild bees. Their ability to smell flowers is usually disrupted by air pollution, but due to less traffic and industry they are now able to sense resources for food much quicker.
Wildlife is also able to move freely and is less disturbed in its natural environment. With fewer traffic at sea, whales can now communicate much better and over longer distances than before the worldwide lockdown since the water is much quieter now. Most national parks and protected areas are closed to visitors which gives wildlife more space and causes less stress to the animals improving nesting and hunting opportunities.
Conservation work at risk
But next to these positive developments, the worldwide lockdown has also caused a global threat to conservation and wildlife.
The tourism industry is a major economy and job provider. Especially rural areas which do not have other economies and focus on nature-based tourism benefit from tourism. Thousands of conservation projects and job positions have developed from wildlife tourism, leading to empowering rural populations. Wildlife tourism offers local communities the chance to benefit from wildlife in a positive way instead of exploiting it through poaching and illegal wildlife trade. Income generated from tourism can be used for conservation projects and for developing social projects within the communities – a win-win situation for both parties.
With COVID-19 and the worldwide lockdown, tourism has come to zero meaning that communities that are dependent on visitors lost their employment positions and their income. Conservation projects lost their financial support, cannot pay their employees and therefore are no longer able keep up their crucial conservation measures. As many local people lost their job and their income, they cannot provide for their families anymore.
Illegal hunting and wildlife poaching
Wildlife is now threatened by illegal hunters which try to feed their families with bushmeat. It is threatened to be injured or shot by communities who are not protected by safety measures anymore due to missing funds of the conservation projects. And it is threatened by poachers which take advantage of the lack of rangers to poach rhinos or elephants for ivory.
The killing of “Rafiki” – a sad example
A very sad example is the killing of “Rafiki”, a famous mountain gorilla in Uganda. In June 2020, Rafiki was killed by poachers who were hunting in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The poachers were tracked down by local rangers who had found the dead body of Rafiki. They admitted that they had killed Rafiki when they were attacked by the silverback.
Mountain gorillas are a key species for Uganda, as many tourists visit the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park each year to spot these fascinating primates. With the death of Rafiki, his family is now left without a leader which may lead to conflict within the group and puts the youngsters at risk of being killed by a new silverback. It may also happen that a new silverback takes the group to a new area away from tourists. After all, the death of Rafiki is likely to affect the development of the mountain gorilla population in Uganda and the tourism industry.
Even though the poachers did not kill Rafiki for bushmeat or trophy hunting, the incident still shows how important it is to patrol wildlife areas on a regular basis and to provide alternatives to poaching for the local communities.
A challenging future
In case the worldwide travel ban continues to last, our planet’s wildlife is facing a very challenging future.
With the loss of income and therewith the loss of education projects, especially in wildlife areas, a major component of conservation and sustainable development will be missing. Education is the key to conservation and teaching our future generations about the importance of a healthy ecosystem is a long-term and indispensable task. COVID-19 and its aftermaths are posing a severe risk to this mission.
The milestones we have achieved in the past are an inspiration for our efforts today. We can only hope that we can soon continue to ensure the security of protected areas and their fascinating inhabitants.
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