By Dr. Peter Lindsey, Director of the Lion Recovery Fund
The COVID-19 crisis has a massive impact on the way of life for most people around the world. The effects of the disease and the associated preventative responses, such as lockdowns, have been pervasive and severe. Virtually every economic sector and facet of life has been affected, and the conservation sector is no exception. We expect wildlife conservation in Africa to be affected in three main ways:
1) Reductions in funding for conservation efforts
Conservation in Africa is already critically under-funded, but the COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating this massively. Wildlife-based tourism is a major source of income for African wildlife authorities and for many NGOs who support conservation. The COVID-19 crisis has caused tourism to come to a screeching halt, with a commensurate loss of revenues. Additionally, conservation philanthropy is almost certainly going to decline due to the global economic contraction and extreme stock market volatility. These factors pose a risk of rangers not being paid, operational costs for vehicles and planes not being available, and ultimately, some conservation operations coming to a halt.
2) Restrictions on the activities of conservation agencies
The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in lockdowns across Africa. These lockdowns are severely curtailing conservation activities in some places. The most affected activities are those involving community outreach and engagement due to the risks of mutual infection. Anti-poaching and law enforcement is generally able to continue (notwithstanding the funding crisis), but challenges remain. For example, at some sites it has not been possible to rotate staff and bring back rangers from leave to relieve those in the field, resulting in exhaustion. In other cases, resupply efforts have been hindered, jeopardizing the ability of rangers to operate in the field.
3) Elevated threats to wildlife
The COVID-19 crisis is hitting African economies extremely hard, from reduced tax income, falling currencies, and massive job losses. Many people in Africa will suffer great hardship as a result. Elevated poverty and reduced food security, coupled with the influx of people from cities to their rural homes during lockdowns, is likely to increase pressure on natural resources. This pressure is manifesting in some cases through increased poaching and we expect increases in other illegal activities such as logging, artisanal mining, and illegal livestock grazing in wildlife areas.
Thus, the COVID-19 crisis creates a perfect storm of conditions where threats are higher, but the funding and operational freedom of conservation agencies is severely curtailed. The LRF is adapting to this crisis in three ways:
1) By increasing our efforts to raise funding so we can issue maximal levels of support to where it is needed the most.
2) By reserving 25% of our budget for emergency grants to help conservation groups reeling as a result of the unique circumstances associated with the COVID-19 crisis – to make sure that conservation activities continue.
3) By focusing on the most urgent projects associated with protecting lions, habitats, and prey. The LRF is also engaging communities and will be less inclined to support more speculative projects.
It is easy to forget about conservation given the gravity of the human crisis facing the world at the moment. However, in the long run, the well-being of humanity depends on intact natural systems. At critical junctures such as this, decades of work can be undone in an instant. Your support for conservation through the LRF is always impactful and always important, but right now, such support will have an even greater impact by helping to keep boots on the ground during this time of crisis.