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Wildlife conservation at risk as tourism collapses in pandemic.



(CNN) – Two decades ago, Rosa María Ruiz bought 4,000 acres (9,885 acres) of land along the Beni River, near the small village of Rurrenabaque, with the aim of transforming it from a Bolivian Amazon cut into a thriving private reserve of life. wild.

The Bolivian eco-fighter had just succeeded in creating what the Wildlife Conservation Society believes is the most biodiversity protected area on the planet, nearby Madidi National Park, but its vocal criticisms of Madidi’s defenses under government control e pulled it out. Unworthy, she set up her own private park lift and named it Serere after a gang bird with a blue face and punk rocky hair.
Fast forward to early 2020, and the Serere Eco-Reserve was home to more than 300 species of birds and some of South America’s most elusive mammals, including dwarf leopards, nocturnal monkeys, jaguars, tapirs and giant anteaters. The revival of this small Amazon movement was made possible thanks to the support of foreign eco-tourists who paid around $ 1
00 a day for comprehensive overnight stays, packed with walks, canned lessons and family-style food, taken from the garden in place.
Rosa María Ruiz has spent decades fighting to protect the Bolivian Amazon.

Rosa María Ruiz has spent decades fighting to protect the Bolivian Amazon.

Courtesy Madidi Travel

Then, of course, it hit the pandemic, and Serere has not welcomed a single visitor since March 23 with no revenue, and a little on the road to savings, Ruiz had to cut staff from 40 to just seven carriers who have already attended hunters and saw about 7 acres of ruined forest for timber (a trend echoed in the Amazon basin).
“We can not keep up with the pace we are in now without further support,” she says, noting a GoFundMe campaign created to address the emergency. “Evidently it is clear that if we do not have a presence and protection in Serere, especially because of the economic crisis everyone is living in now, those who are rigid will continue to cut down trees and sell timber for easy money.”

It’s a situation faced by highly respected conservation projects around the developing world, who have spent a lot during 2020 navigating the new reality of trying to protect wildlife while dealing with Covid fiscal results -19.

The Serere Eco-Reserve in Bolivia has not welcomed visitors since March 23.

The Serere Eco-Reserve in Bolivia has not welcomed visitors since March 23.

Courtesy Madidi Travel

Wildlife tourism: An industry at risk

In the early days of the pandemic, the internet got bored with stories of feral pigs in Barcelona, ​​pumas in the Chilean capital Santiago and dolphins in the canals of Venice (the latter was fake viral news). Animals seem to be flourishing in the era of coronavirus blockages.

These stories of the “good news” of freely roaming animals were what we all coveted at the time, but they upset a more unfortunate reality.

Tourism has been the fragile pillar on which thousands of conservation projects have stood for decades, helping to protect wildlife, trafficked animals and refugees, to restore vital habitats and to educate the public about sustainability. When that pillar collapsed overnight amid global travel bans, the system collapsed.

Wildlife reserves in the developing world, unlike U.S. National Parks at the moment, are empty. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a good thing for animals.

Not only does the presence of eco-tourists keep hunters and hunters at bay, but also in their well-managed reserves, their funds, veterinary programs and animal rescue centers in parts of the globe that do not have strong systems of public park.

It also provides a vital source of income for rural and dispersed communities.

A 2019 estimate by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) puts the direct value of wildlife tourism at $ 120 billion. It generates 21.8 million global jobs and is particularly important in Africa (where it accounts for 36.3% of the travel and tourism sector), Latin America (where it is 8.6%) and Asia-Pacific (where it is 5.8%).

This revenue has virtually evaporated as a result of Covid-19, leaving animals – and those who care for and depend on them – at risk.

Most of the elephants at the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury, Laos, were rescued from the logging or tourism industry.

Most of the elephants at the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury, Laos, were rescued from the logging or tourism industry.

Mark Johanson

Begging for money

The Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) is a 6,000-hectare (14,825-hectare) reserve in northern Laos that cares for 34 rescued Asian elephants, helping them rebuild and eventually return to the wild. Laos has less than 400 wild elephants and the same number in captivity, according to government estimates, making programs like this essential to reach the scale.

About 85% of ECC revenue comes from paid visitors and volunteers, who spend about $ 110 a day on multi-day educational stays, which do not include invasive riding or animal bathing.

Although Laos has so far been spared mainly from the coronavirus, with only 20 cases confirmed, tourism at the ECC is limited to a few immigrants and locals. Now, it is looking for donors and give money to stay afloat, hire its 34 mahout (elephant trainers) and carry out its biggest mission of using elephants as a symbol to raise awareness of conservation of regional habitats housing less iconic endangered species.

“I was quite happy with the ECC business model because we were kind of independent of donor money thanks to this revenue generated by tourists,” explains founder Sebastien Duffillot. “Going back to begging for money is not ideal as funds are not so easy to get these days and the tourism model was much more stable.”

A runner on a hijacking patrol in Kenya’s Mara triangle holds the items he has collected.

A runner on a hijacking patrol in Kenya’s Mara triangle holds the items he has collected.

Adam Bannister

To help stop hunting, fund a shooter

Africa has been most affected by the sudden decline of ecotourism. About 67 million tourists visited the continent in 2018, according to the UN World Tourism Organization, with many attractive from the chance to go on a once in a lifetime safari.

“Thanks to the pandemic, we are seeing a massive number of people who are completely out of a job,” says Soraya Shattuck, executive director of the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund (ATCF), a nonprofit that leverages the travel community’s environmental and cultural conservation. efforts for maximum impact.

“Not only should hotels and lodges have to close their doors, but think about the impact this has had on the people who are involved in these industries,” she added. “This means that chefs, drivers, hotel staff, craft vendors, rankers – all of these people who depend on visitors have no income and they can be the main source of income for their whole family.” “

Shattuck says without extra eyes in the continent’s parks, some communities have been drawn into the hunt out of desperation. They are not targeting elephants and rhinos, she explains, but are creating traps for other meats that they can sell or use to feed their families.

The ATCF is trying to fight the issue with a campaign to fund the attackers in hopes of keeping money flowing for those on the brink of environmental crisis.
Cheetahs, among the most endangered by big cats in the world, roam the Mara Triangle in Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Cheetahs, among the most endangered by big cats in the world, roam the Mara Triangle in Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Tyler Davis

Signs of silver clothing

A 2019 WTTC study found that the average time from impact on economic recovery after an outbreak of disease is 19.4 months for the travel industry. This is, of course, just an estimate. If there is one thing that is certain about the current pandemic, it is that everything remains uncertain.

However, there are some signs of hope on the horizon.

China, the largest market for illegal wildlife products, has suspended wildlife trade and has vowed to impose a permanent ban on the sale and consumption of wildlife (although this has not yet been completed). Moreover, a recent report by the Wildlife Justice Commission found that trade was severely crippled by current travel restrictions.
Some travel brands, including luxury clothing and Beyond, are offering virtual safaris that hold paid guides and raise funds for community development projects, while others, such as Desert & Delta Safaris, are selling coupons for future travel, a percentage of which conservation initiatives in local communities living close to wildlife go directly to the emergency.

Across the ecotourism industry, Shattuck says she has seen an increase in partial financial resource allocation where companies will add a mandatory fee (per guest, per night) that goes directly to conservation efforts.

“The goal is to protect the communities that protect these natural habitats,” she says. “So if you had to cancel your $ 5,000 safari, you could have an extra $ 50 in your pocket today to make sure that when you go next year, the place is still intact.”

Governments have been so preoccupied with the Covid-19 human emergency that there has been little investment in the natural emergency. However, the two are deeply connected.

Coronavirus is caused by the transmission of zoonotic disease, which occurs most often when wildlife come into close contact with each other and humans. There is a greater potential for this in wildlife markets and in human-animal conflicts such as pruning.

By protecting wildlife and their natural habitats, we can simply protect ourselves from the next pandemic.


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