From the vast plains of the Masai Mara in Kenya to the delicate corals of the Aldabra atoll in the Seychelles, conservation work to protect some of the world’s most important ecosystems is facing crisis following a collapse in ecotourism during the Covid-19 pandemic. Organisations that depend on visitors to fund projects for critically endangered species and rare habitats could be forced to close, according to wildlife NGOs, after border closures and worldwide travel restrictions abruptly halted millions of pounds of income from tourism. Throughout the pandemic, scientists have repeatedly urged humanity to reset its relationship with nature or suffer worse outbreaks. But the economic consequences of the Covid-19 lockdown have raised fears of a surge in poaching, illegal fishing and deforestation in life-sustaining ecosystems, with tens of thousands of jobs in the ecotourism sector at risk around the world.“It’s right that the global focus now is on protecting human lives in this devastating pandemic. However, in the places we work, we are already witnessing its economic impact, particularly in areas where communities rely heavily on ecotourism for their livelihoods,” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF UK. In Cambodia, three critically endangered giant ibis were killed for meat in early April following the collapse of the local tourism industry, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. In central Africa, measures to shield mountain gorillas from the virus have resulted in a slump in vital visitor revenue. Twelve rangers who guarded Virunga national park, where the gorillas live, were killed in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo last month.“It could be years before these places can fully recover, increasing the risk that people come to rely on other activities to make a living, putting unsustainable pressure on natural resources,” Bartlett said. “Additionally it is currently much harder to monitor land grabbing and illegal poaching.”While the poaching of rhinos, big cats and critically endangered species has continued during lockdown, a recent Wildlife Justice Commission report found the illegal wildlife trade had been severely disrupted by movement and travel restrictions. But conservationists fear an explosion of illegal hunting if organisations are forced to lay off wildlife rangers and suspend surveillance programmes. Black rhinos in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, have been evacuated after at least six were killed by poachers in March. Dickson Kaelo, chief executive officer at Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, said all bookings for this year’s key activities such as the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara had been cancelled, prompting difficult choices about staff in Kenya’s conservancies.“While elephant poaching may not escalate owing to the current suppression of international travel and negative sentiments against animal products in south-east Asia, demand for bushmeat will go up
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