The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) have published a new report outlining the impact of COVID-19 on communities and conservation efforts in Zimbabwe.
The report, entitled “The effects of COVID-19 on wildlife reliant communities & conservation efforts in Zimbabwe,” takes a look at the direct economic impact, as well as the ripple effects on livelihoods and wildlife.
It is stated that the global safari industry has lost around $100 million in revenue due to cancelled bookings in 2020, with a total of 90% of bookings, equivalent to 8,000 hunting days, having been already been cancelled.
Developing nations such as Zimbabwe are most at risk from these developments, as they are particularly reliant on wildlife for income and as means to support conservation.
This article summarises the ways in which Zimbabwe, its people and wildlife have been affected by COVID-19. The full report can be downloaded here.
Rural District Councils
Rural District Councils (RDCs), or rural branches of the government of Zimbabwe, in marginalised areas are heavily reliant on wildlife resources to fund their operations, with revenues from safari operators accounting for 90% of their income.
COVID-19, and the subsequent restrictions on travel, is likely to lead to a drastic decline in the safari revenues going to RDCs, and the services that they provide for communities.
An officer from the Mbire RDC states that wildlife resources account for “70 % of income to RDC and almost 100% for communities,” and that the suspension of hunting has resulted in limited access to “basic health services, food and water.”
RDCs are also known for implementing local level compensations schemes for those that have suffered from human wildlife conflict (HWC). These schemes include paying for a percentage of the hospital bill for bodily injuries incurred as a result of HWC.
The loss of revenue from safari operators could mean RDCs are no longer able to offer such compensation schemes, and may ultimately lead to a deterioration in relationship between them and communities.
Communities and Conservation
In Zimbabwe, through the CAMPIRE program, communities receive roughly 50% of the income generated through safari operations, which is then used to fund development initiatives.
Such initiatives include training for “ward resilience committees” and “fire management,” which make up part of the natural resource management activities that take place in rural Zimbabwe.
Safari revenues also pay for ward level anti-poaching units (APUs), which conduct “routine patrols, monitoring of illegal wildlife trade, poaching and problem animal control.”
As revenues from safari operators decrease as a result of the pandemic, it is highly likely that these wildlife management activities can no longer continue to be funded. It is also suggested that poaching and illegal wildlife trade as a whole will increase, as support and funding for APUs falls in conjunction with hunting activities.
Secondary Effects on Conservation
Human wildlife conflict is an issue that rural communities must face when coexisting with wildlife. Typically, as these communities can financially benefit from wildlife and animals, conflicts are often tolerated. For example, farmers are reimbursed for any crop losses brought about by problem animals.
When they can no longer benefit from wildlife, as is the case now with COVID-19, it is feared that individuals might take matters into their own hands and retaliate against incidents of human wildlife conflict. This could take place in the form of retaliatory killings, thereby reversing existing conservation efforts.
It is also suggested that the loss of income may push people into cooperating with poachers, which would further increase the number of illegal killings that are taking place.
Another secondary effect on conservation is the reduced capacity for illegal wildlife trade monitoring. Fishing groups in Zimbabwe are known to conduct surveillance for any potential illegal wildlife trade activity.
Due to restrictions on movement and demand, these groups have had to scale down their operations, which has also had an impact on monitoring capacity.