The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered our lives in a matter of months and has necessitated that citizens across the world work together like never before in an effort to flatten the curve. And the conservation sector is no different. Those individuals and organisations working in the field are having to adapt and look at new ways to protect our most valuable assets: wildlife and wild places.
Although there have been some undoubtedly positive developments from this pandemic, such as the apparent ban on wildlife trade in China, as well as the playful scenes of sheep flocking through deserted streets in Turkey and a hippo crossing international boundaries to wade at a beach in Mozambique, behind the scenes, the sudden and rapid changes impacting the global economy will undoubtedly put a strain on an already fragile system.
With the world quite rightly focussed on combatting this disease and saving human lives, the lives of other species are potentially now more at risk than ever before. Basic conservation efforts, ranging from day-to-day ecological management through to wildlife crime prevention initiatives, are becoming increasingly difficult to implement. With vital government resources being diverted away from the conservation sector as well as the abrupt closure of the tourism sector, funding has all but dried up overnight. This dramatic cut in revenue will undoubtedly have a major impact on present and future conservation efforts across the globe for years to come.
The South African conservation model relies heavily on tourism and hunting to generate sufficient income. However, the country must earnestly begin to adapt to a post-pandemic world where tourism, and the associated cash flow, is slow to recover.
Overcoming challenges to modern wildlife conservation is going to require a rethinking of existing approaches and diversification of the sources of revenue that support them. Conservation must be further incentivised across all levels of society. From national-level policies that look to empower communities with real ownership, to changing society’s outlook on and understanding of the sustainable use of certain species, as well as assisting those that continue to struggle with human-wildlife conflict on a daily basis.
While contentious topics such as the hunting of marquee species, so-called animal interactions, and the oft proposed legal trade in wildlife products spark furious debates, we must nonetheless mindfully re-examine these and many other issues in order to find a common and collective approach that contributes to a sustainable funding model.
As the modern world slows down, and the vulnerability of fragile conservation models are clearly exposed, we must seize the opportunity. Rethinking and rebuilding a more resilient and sustainable solution for the future, by looking to deepen the integration of conservation into the wider national and global economy. Ensuring that we are no longer solely reliant on a few to save the many. Indeed, the challenges of tomorrow require a collective response - defined by shared risk, responsibility and reward.