Even amid the Covid-19 pandemic, wildlife roam free in their protected grounds, and in our imaginations. We can picture an elephant herd at a water hole, lion cubs tussling in tall grass. A nature-loving global public cherish such scenes, and in 2018 wildlife tourism directly contributed US$ 120.1 billion to helping grow the economies of many nations.
But with Covid-19, tourists everywhere have canceled their plans and the tourism industry has crashed to a halt. Some African parks have closed. Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo has barred visitors until June 1—in part to protect its endangered mountain gorillas from possible exposure to Covid-19. It may be years, rather than months, before ecotourism reclaims its role in economic development.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ecotourism lodges worldwide are sitting empty, undercutting a critical source of local livelihoods and funding for conservation efforts.
This is bad news for wildlife and local communities that depend on income generated by the parks from tourism. It also brings us face-to-face with a reality we must confront: If we want to conserve nature, we must share the cost of conservation.
To protect people’s welfare and wildlife, we must develop a system that provides adequate financial support to poorer countries for conserving the biodiversity that benefits us all. Such a system is long overdue, for although the benefits of biodiversity and natural areas are universal, the costs of protection are high and disproportionally borne by the poor communities living with wildlife.
This is an excerpt from an article by Johan Robinson, originally published on Mongabay.