The coronavirus threat to tourism and wildlife conservation

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I wrote a World Guide to Ecotourism when I was a young journalist in Japan. The premise now seems obvious, but in Japan at that time, it was still a new concept. Tourism is based on the natural and human assets of its destination. It should not destroy these assets but perpetuate, improve and develop them, for the benefit of all.

One of the many countries I visited for this book was Namibia. Its incredible people and wildlife really hooked me, and I went home and worked in conservation and development for a decade until 2010. The country had extraordinary natural assets and benefited immensely from their conservation. . Community participation has been a critical part of this success.

Tourism can seem rather frivolous. Fringe-frivolous wildlife tourism! But statistics indicate that it is, in fact, one of the most influential and influential human industries in the world.

Animal tourism

Travel and tourism account for 10.3% of global GDP, making the sector more important than agriculture. In 2019 alone, it created one in four new jobs. Equally impressive is the economic contribution of wildlife tourism. It stood at US $ 343.6 billion (0.4% of global GDP) in 2018. Wildlife tourism supported 21.8 million jobs worldwide, or 6.8% of total related jobs. travel and tourism. The percentage is much higher in Africa, at 36.3 percent.

Tourism has been at the heart of thousands of conservation projects that have generated jobs and income, empowering rural women and men. It has become a key argument in the “keep or operate” debate.

Return to Namibia. Tourism, mainly nature-oriented, is the second largest economic sector, accounting for 15.4% of total employment and 14.7% of national GDP. Tourism is at the heart of the country’s poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation strategy. A colleague said that community tourism is the most effective way to redistribute income from the rich to the less rich and poor.

Conservation management

This has enabled Namibia to classify nearly 50 percent of its land for conservation-oriented management, 20 percent of which includes 86 communal reserves that are home to the flagship species of safari, including desert-adapted elephants, lions and the world’s largest population of black rhinos and cheetahs. Communities have the right to enjoy the benefits of wildlife, which enables them to develop businesses and generate much-needed jobs and opportunities. Poachers became entrepreneurs and conservationists as people saw wildlife as their asset.

Photo: Midori Paxton

Then came COVID-19; lockdowns, travel paralysis and the end of an economic lifeline for hundreds of millions of people. The estimated impact on travel and tourism is staggering. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that up to 75 million jobs are threatened in the immediate future and forecasts an economic loss of up to $ 2.1 trillion. Recovery time from outbreaks has averaged around 19.4 months in the past – not everything returns to normal the day after the lockdown is lifted.

In Namibia, this means the loss of US $ 3.2 million in annual tourism income and an additional loss of US $ 3.5 million in salaries for staff living in conservatories. Tens of thousands of jobs are at risk, including community game wardens, conservation staff, and those providing goods and services.

The 30-year effort to build Namibia’s communal conservation program is under serious threat. And it is happening across Africa and beyond. Aware of this, our partnership initiative La Part du Lion has just announced a call for proposals for COVID Emergency Grants strengthen the resilience of communities whose livelihoods depend on wildlife tourism. It will help, but there is still a long way to go.

Increased poaching

COVID-19 is a human health crisis and is also a colossal and unprecedented attack on standards of human behavior, movement, the tourism industry and all the conservation efforts that depend on it. Around the world, there are reports of increased poaching by communities who have lost their jobs and livelihoods. This once again raises the specter of wildlife infection with human pathogens and future zoonotic pandemics such as COVID-19, which are transmitted from wildlife to humans.

There has been a growing debate over banning wildlife trade to prevent future pandemics. Governments and agencies are discussing the recovery from COVID-19 and how countries can rebuild their economies, and reorient the recovery towards establishing a sustainable and just world in the Decade of Action for the Goals of sustainable development.

Given its immense contribution to poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation, the nature and wildlife tourism sector must be seen as a large enterprise employing tens of millions of people, many of whom are vulnerable. , and living in rural areas. This pandemic directly and seriously affects at least 100 million people who depend on the wildlife economy, including informal providers of the economy and their families. Serious support is needed for this sector, and not just for airlines, large farms and businesses.

Investing in communities that protect nature

The World Economic Forum has ranked the loss of nature as one of the main global risks. COVID-19 has shown us why. The loss of nature and the consumption of wild animals are at the root of the emergence of zoonotic infectious diseases, such as coronavirus, Ebola and HIV / AIDS.

Today there are even more pressing reasons to invest in communities that protect nature through tourism and wildlife conservation. COVID-19 stimulus packages must include this investment. Nature underpins the survival, well-being and sustainable development of people. Unspoiled nature gives us air, water and food and serves as a “natural vaccine” to reduce the frequency and intensity of future epidemics of zoonotic pandemics. This will save tens of billions of dollars in the decades to come and prevent misery for billions of people. Doesn’t that sound like a no-brainer?


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