COVID-19 disrupts Zimbabwe’s wildlife conservation efforts

By Xinhua

HARARE, Aug. 3 () — As the novel coronavirus pandemic keep tourists confined to their home countries, wildlife conservation initiatives that depend on tourism revenues have been severely crippled.

With many tourists either cancelling or postponing their travel plans, budgets for wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe have been decimated drastically, reducing the capacity of responsible authorities to effectively execute their duties.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks), which is the authority mandated to manage Zimbabwe’s national parks and safari areas, relies heavily on international tourism earnings for its operational activities.

Luke Brown, co-founder of Vayeni Safari Escapes and Zambesia Conservation Alliance, said the COVID-19 crisis has brought a sudden stop to wildlife tourism, a development that has drastically disrupted conservation funding.

“This pandemic has caused untold challenges to the tourism industry, be it hunting tourism, or photographic tourism, there are estimates that 60-70 percent of revenues that were helping conservation efforts were coming from tourism,” he told Xinhua.

Brown added that the economic fallout from the pandemic are being felt both directly and indirectly to the safari industry and downstream industries such as hospitality and travel industries.

He urged funders of wildlife conservation and tourists planning to travel to Africa after the pandemic to extend their support to organizations involved in wildlife conservation to enable them to continue protecting wildlife and the environment.

“When you want to travel after this pandemic you may find some of the areas you wanted to travel to are no longer there, because they couldn’t be supported any longer. Maybe tourism will come back by the end of the year, or maybe next year, maybe it’s not a significant amount of time to create a total disaster, but the disaster is brewing for sure, for wildlife,” Brown said.

ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo recently told state run The Herald newspaper that lack of tourism revenues had badly affected the organization to an extent that the authority would soon fail to pay its employees.

“ZimParks relies heavily from tourism earnings for its operational activities. Wildlife tourism plays a critical role in our foreign currency generation through game viewing and licensed hunting. We also use the proceeds to respond to human wildlife conflicts… The situation is dire and if we don’t pay rangers and support their operations, this might pose serious problems for the country’s wildlife conservation efforts,” Farawo said.

According to a recent report by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), the pandemic had a negative impact not only on conservation efforts, but also on rural communities since most Rural District Councils (RDCs) in protected areas depend on wildlife resources for their day to day operations.

“In these areas, revenue from safari operators constitutes over 90 percent of the RDCs’ income stream. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic is casting doubt on trophy hunting and subsequently on the share of the revenue from hunting quotas allocated to safari operators,” the report said.

The report said restrictions on international travel has led to a decline in the safari revenues going to the RDCs.

The uncertainty around international travel and hunting is negatively affecting the hunting industry. In the absence of trophy hunting, it is most likely that revenue to RDCs will drastically decline and adversely affect service delivery, according to the report.

“Because of COVID-19, it is highly likely that most wildlife reliant communities will no longer be able to finance the activities of ward resilience committees and this will subsequently negatively affect natural resource conservation efforts,” reads part of the report.

Zimbabwe has some of Africa’s largest game reserves, and is home to thriving populations of the big five — the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo.

The southern African country is one of the 10 countries in the world with the best wildlife conservation methods, according to a recent research by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit in partnership with Panthera, an organization devoted to the conservation of wild cat species and their ecosystems.

In 2019, Zimbabwe welcomed 2.29 million international tourists, making the country one of the top tourist destinations in the region. The country received a total of 1.25 billion U.S. dollars in tourism receipts in the same year, with foreign receipts contributing 868 million dollars.

Zimbabwe’s Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu recently said the country’s tourism sector could lose up to 1.1 billion dollars due to travel restrictions.

Last month government granted permission to national parks and safari operators to resume limited operations for local tourism in a bid to boost domestic tourism.

However, inter-city travel remain banned, meaning that only people living close to the national parks would be able to visit them.

Given the economic environment in the country, locals are less likely to visit tourist attractions in sufficient numbers to support the struggling sector.

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