(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.
Rosa María Ruiz has spent decades fighting to protect the Amazon forests in Bolivia.
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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.
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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.
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.
Ask for money
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Cheetahs, one of the world’s most endangered large cats, roam the Mara Triangle in Maasai Mara, Kenya.
Signs of bearings
However, there are some signs of hope on the horizon.
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.