Jean-Jacques Cornish

Warning from one of the best conservation organisations about the toll COVID 19 is having on safeguarding wildlife

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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.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.