With fewer cars on roads and the human population confined to their homes for most of 2020, many consider a resurrection of our natural world as a positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with spending cuts to conservation projects and increased poaching accounts, the outlook for conservation post-COVID may not be so bright.
It was proposed that the ‘anthropause’ (reduced mobility during the pandemic) would highlight the human impact on the natural world and reveal useful insight into human-animal interactions. There were multiple accounts of unusual wildlife encounters, with dolphins inhabiting a harbour of Trieste, Italy, and sightings of pumas strolling through the streets of Santiago, Chile.
However since the pandemic began, Asia and South America have reported dwindling numbers of people entering national parks and billions of dollars lost in ecotourism. This has led to an increase in poaching due to the mass redundancy of park rangers and regulation enforcement lacking. Specifically in India, the Mayurjharna Elephant Reserve Project had to be abandoned. This led to elephants entering villages, damaging crops and homes, and five elephants killed. Furthermore, this region recorded its first case of ivory poaching in years.
“There is a misperception that nature is ‘getting a break’ from humans during COVID-19.”
– Conservation International
A lot of attention falls to Africa, where conservation initiatives rely heavily on funding from tourism. Reports suggest that the global shut down has cost the continent’s wildlife sector $29 billion employing 3.6 million people. In some cases, low-income countries have turned to the exploitation of natural resources in an attempt to mitigate the financial burden.
Closer to home, a recent report by 57 wildlife organisations warned that COVID posed a serious threat to conservation. In November, Bristol Zoo was forced to relocate due to financial difficulties caused by the pandemic, selling its plot in the city.
For certain urban species, the pandemic has created new challenges. For example, those that rely on food waste from humans such as rats, gulls, and monkeys may struggle to survive under the current conditions. Furthermore, in some countries that allow exercise outdoors, the population has flocked to parks and green spaces, thus disturbing the resident wildlife.
Despite, problems associated with funding and lack of ecotourism caused by the 2020 pandemic, there have been some benefits. As well as the stagnation of global transport hindering the illegal wildlife trade, the reduction of shipping traffic has allowed scientists to study marine fauna in their most natural state without anthropogenic influence.
As we approach the end of this especially long year, it is unclear what the long-term effects caused by the pandemic may be. We must hold our breaths and hope for a brighter future.
As life gradually returns to normality, we will continue to provide our partners with crucial support in the fight to protect and defend species around the world. Follow the link to read more about our conservation presence around the world.