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Conservation of wildlife is in danger as tourism collapses during a pandemic.

(CNN) – Two decades ago, Rosa María Ruiz purchased 4,000 hectares (9,885 acres) of land along the Beni River, near the small village of Rurrenabaque, with the goal of turning it from a heavily exploited area of ​​Amazon Bolivia into a protected area. Private wildlife survival thrives.

The Bolivian eco-warrior has just succeeded in creating where the Wildlife Conservation Association believes to be the most biodiversity sanctuary on the planet, nearby Madidi National Park, but criticism Her vigor towards protecting Madidi under government control caused her to be kicked out. Undeterred, she established her own private park and named it Serere after a gang bird with a blue face and punk rock hair.
Fast-forward to early 2020, the Serere Ecological Reserve is home to more than 300 species of birds and some of South America̵
7;s most elusive mammals, including dwarf leopards, night monkeys, cheetahs, tapirs. and giant ant eater. The revival of this tiny Amazon strip is made possible by the help of foreign eco-tourists who pay around $ 100 a day for overnight vacations packed with walking lessons. Long-distance, preserved and family-style meals are sourced from the on-site garden.
Rosa María Ruiz has spent decades fighting to protect the Amazon forests in Bolivia.

Rosa María Ruiz has spent decades fighting to protect the Amazon forests in Bolivia.

Travel with courtesy Madidi

Then, of course, a pandemic struck and Serere hasn’t welcomed a single visitor since March 23. With no money to come and little savings, Ruiz had to cut staff from 40 to just seven. forest Park. chased out poachers and saw about 7 acres of forest being looted for timber (a trend that happened across the Amazon basin).
“We cannot continue at the current rate without additional support,” she said, noting that a GoFundMe campaign was created to address an emergency situation. “Obviously if we didn’t have a presence and protection in Serere, especially because of the economic crisis people are living in today, then tough guys will continue to cut down trees and sell timber for easy money. “

It’s a tricky situation faced by highly regarded conservation projects across the developing world, who have spent most of 2020 navigating the reality of trying to protect. wildlife in response to Covid-19’s fiscal disaster.

The Serere Ecological Reserve in Bolivia has not been welcoming visitors since 23 March.

The Serere Ecological Reserve in Bolivia has not been welcoming visitors since 23 March.

Travel with courtesy Madidi

Wildlife tourism: An industry in danger

In the early days of the pandemic, the Internet was buzzing with stories of wild boars in Barcelona, ​​teddy bears in the Chilean capital Santiago and dolphins in the Venice canals (then the fake news spread). . It seems that animals are thriving in the era of locking coronavirus.

The “good news” stories about animals that we all coveted at the time, but they overshadow an even more unhappy reality.

Tourism is a fragile pillar that thousands of conservation projects have stood on for decades, helping to protect wildlife, trade and asylum, restore important habitats and educate community about sustainability. When that pillar collapsed on the night amid the global travel ban, the system collapsed.

Wildlife sanctuaries in developing countries, unlike US National Parks at this time, are empty. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a good thing for animals.

The presence of eco-tourists not only prevents poachers and logging in the bay, but in well-managed protected areas, their money sponsors the rangers, animal programs. Medicine and animal rescue centers in areas where there is a lack of a strong public park system.

It also provides an important source of income for rural and disenfranchised communities.

A 2019 estimate from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) suggests that the direct value of wildlife tourism is $ 120 billion. It creates 21.8 million global jobs and is especially important in Africa (which accounts for 36.3% of the tourism and travel industry), Latin America (8.6%) and Asia-Pacific. (accounting for 5.8%).

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

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

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

Mark Johanson

Ask for money

The Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) is a 6,000-hectare (14,825-acre) sanctuary in northern Laos, where it takes care of 34 rescued Asian elephants, helps them reproduce and eventually return to the wild. According to government estimates, Laos has fewer than 400 wild elephants and an equivalent number in captivity, making programs like these essential to scale up.

About 85% of ECC’s revenue comes from paid tourists and volunteers, who spend about $ 110 a day on multi-day educational vacations that don’t involve horse riding or bathing with animal.

Although Laos has so far been largely free of coronavirus infection, with only 20 confirmed cases, tourism at ECC is limited to a limited number of expats and locals. They are now looking for sponsors and funding to survive, keep 34 elephant trainers (elephant trainers) running, and do their bigger mission of using elephants as logos. to raise awareness about conservation of habitats in the area where less iconic species are present.

Founder Sebastien Duffillot explained: “I am quite satisfied with ECC’s business model because we do not depend on donors’ money thanks to this income generated by tourists. “Going back to begging for money is not ideal because nowadays money is not easily obtained and the tourism model is much more sustainable.”

A ranger patrolling traps in Kenya's Mara Triangle keeps the items he has collected.

A ranger patrolling traps in Kenya’s Mara Triangle keeps the items he has collected.

Adam Bannister

To help prevent poaching, fund rangers

Africa, arguably, is most affected by the sudden decline in ecotourism. About 67 million tourists visited the continent in 2018, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, with many drawn in by the once-in-a-lifetime hunting opportunity.

Soraya Shattuck, executive director of the Adventure Tourism Conservation Fund (ATCF), a non-profit that explores the preservation of the environment and culture of the tourism community, said: “Thanks to the pandemic, we are Considering a large number of people with absolutely no jobs make an effort to have maximum impact.

“Not only hotels and motels have to be closed, but think about the impact this will have on ancillaries entering these industries,” she added. “That means chefs, drivers, hotel staff, craftsmen, rangers – all who depend on this tourist no longer have any income, and they can be The main income generator for the whole family. “

Without more eyeballs in the continent’s parks, some communities have been lured into poaching out of desperation, Shattuck said. She explains that they aren’t necessarily targeting elephants and rhinos, but are setting up traps for other shrubs they can sell or use to feed their families.

The ATCF is trying to combat this problem with a campaign to fund the rangers in the hopes of keeping money for those at the forefront of the environmental crisis.
Cheetahs, one of the world's most endangered large cats, roam the Mara Triangle in Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Cheetahs, one of the world’s most endangered large cats, roam the Mara Triangle in Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Tyler Davis

Signs of bearings

A 2019 WTTC study found that the mean time from impact to economic recovery from an outbreak was 19.4 months for the tourism industry. That is, of course, just an estimate. If there is one thing for certain about the current pandemic, it is still uncertain.

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

China, the largest market for illegal wildlife products, suspended its wildlife trade and announced it would impose a permanent ban on the trade and consumption of animals. wild (though this is yet to be completed). Furthermore, a recent report by the Wildlife Justice Commission found that trade has been severely paralyzed due to current travel restrictions.
A number of travel brands, including luxury outfits and beyond, are offering virtual hunting trips that get paid guides and fundraisers for community development projects, while others, Desert & Delta Safaris, such as the Desert & Delta Safaris, are selling coupons for future trips, a percentage of which directly goes to emergency conservation initiatives in local communities living close by. wild animals.

In the ecotourism industry, Shattuck says she has seen an increase in the share of financial resources, where companies will add a mandatory fee (per guest, per night) directly to the conservation efforts.

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

Governments were so preoccupied with the human emergency of Covid-19 that there was very little investment in the natural emergency. However, in essence, the two are linked.

Coronavirus is caused by zoonotic transmission of disease, which usually occurs when wild animals come into close contact with humans. The most likely to occur is in wildlife markets and during human-animal conflicts such as poaching.

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

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