by Jean-Jacques Cornish
With Prince William as the eloquent and passionate Royal Patron of its comprehensive programmes , the Tusk organisation has become a poster child for wildlife conservation around the world.
Well, hardly a child. It has been operating for 30 years and currently manages more than 50 projects in 20 countries.
It has attracted muscular sponsors like Land Rover and British Airways to support high-profile campaigns like #EndWildlifeCrime and its annual awards ceremony is an envied opportunity for glitterati and conservationists to clink glasses.
So when Tusk CEO Charlie Mayhew talks about the devastating impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on saving endangered species, it has to be taken seriously.
Mayhew reckons the evaporation of tourism caused by the pandemic and the lockdown has set back conservation efforts by three decades.
Tusk is losing at least two million dollars because of cancelled fundraising events.
The collapsed tourism industry employs more than nine million people around the planet .
They are engaged in conservation, guiding maintaining and servicing lodges and hotels and physically protecting wildlife.
No less than half the revenue stream of wildlife reserves comes from tourism.
As these profitable 62-million visitors – who bring in almost $40 billion – stay away the extra eyes and ears they contribute to watching over the animals also disappear and the poachers move in.
Tim Davenport of the Wildlife Conservation Society says tourist presence is sometimes as strong as a deterrent as that of rangers to poachers.
Some of the animals are killed for profit with their tusks, horns, scales and hides sold to organized crime.
Many other poachers are simply the local population desperate for food.
Nico Jacobs of Rhino 911, protecting the endangered species in the north of South Africa, says at least nine rhino have been poached in NorthWest Province since the start of lockdown, adding that those are simply the ones he knows about.
Ryan Tate,a former US Marine heads Vet Paw, an organisation of military veterans fighting poachers in South Africa.
He should be in the bush right now but finds himself in lockdown back in the US.
Also stuck in South Carolina is Map Ives, the founder and director of Rhino Conservation Botswana who has lived in the Okavango Delta for the past four decades.
He calls the rise in poaching a “bloody calamity, and absolute crisis.”
Before the lockdown, Africa was losing 35 000 elephants to patchers every year.
Black rhino numbers are down 97,6% since 1960.
The lion population has decreased by 35 000 these past 21 years.
In Africa’s oldest game reserve, Virunga National Park on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s border with Rwanda and Burundi, 12 rangers were were killed last week by Rwandan rebels.The rangers were protecting a convoy of civilians five of whom were killed by the rebels.
The rangers guard the mountain gorillas that number barely more than 1 000.
The figures are horrifying.The reality is even more stark.
Things cannot possibly improve until mankind is no longer threatened by COVID 19.
Government and donor organisations cannot be seen to be giving money for conservation when people’s lives are threatened.