All across the globe, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to find anyone who has not been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.
From giants of the travel industry to small, local businesses that depend on tourism, times are tough – and survival is becoming an everyday battle.
The effects from the halt in travel have been devastating to many – but there are other victims suffering in the worst way imaginable.
We all hope to return to some sense of normalcy very soon. We all miss being able to travel and explore without the doomsday predictions and scare tactics of the media and elected officials being broadcast at every passing moment.
People are tired of it all and thinking about making travel plans again, albeit perhaps less ambitious than pre-COVID travel.
Maybe a road trip, or maybe a short domestic flight – with the family donning matching face masks and spraying a cloud of Lysol in their wake.
But most Americans have no intention of traveling overseas in the near future – even when we are able to do so unrestricted.
They’re scared. The panic and fear spread so much more quickly than the virus itself, and it’s overwhelmingly led people to believe they must stay close to home.
Like so much else, a vital mission cancelled.
One American hero and his team, however, desperately wish to move forward with their planned trip to South Africa this spring.
But like so many countries during these unprecedented times, the country is “closed.”
Ryan Tate is a Marine Corps veteran and co-founder and president of VetPaw – Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife — an organization whose name speaks for itself.
And he’s stuck at home in the U.S. due to international travel restrictions put in place due to COVID-19.
He should be in the forests of South Africa preventing poachers from killing African rhinos and other endangered native species – but he can’t.
He can’t even freely and frequently fly to meet all his usual donors, and the money to protect these endangered animals is drying up, just like their populations.
It is estimated there are around 5,500 black rhinos and between 17,000 to 18,000 thousand white rhinos left in the world.
It may sound like a lot, but they’re being illegally poached now more than ever, along with the elephants and the other African wildlife VetPaw works to protect.
The death of even one their females can orphan several babies who won’t be strong enough to make it.
And it’s the direct result of lost tourism.
Unintended consequences and collateral damage…
Sure, there have been plenty of “silver lining” moments coming out of this pandemic.
Historic cities ravaged by over-tourism are now able to evaluate the damage and make repairs before crowds return. Lakes and rivers are healing from pollution, and native species are returning to once overtaken habitats.
But in Africa, endangered wildlife is not so lucky. They’re becoming collateral damage due to the fear of travel.
Wildlife tours and guided safaris have been cancelled. Who knows when they will resume again, especially to the level of their pre-pandemic normalcy.
VetPaw and other conservation organizations understand better than anyone the unintended consequences of global travel restrictions.
Poachers have free rein to roam wildlife refuges because there are just not many vehicles traveling around these vast lands.
Rangers do what they can, but poaching is a way to make a quick buck these days – and wildlife organizations have always noticed a correlation between hard times and poaching.
People are struggling for food and money – and there are far fewer chances of getting caught without the tourist camps and guides, so they’re taking this “opportunity” to cash in.
At least six rhinos have been killed in Botswana since the country locked down in mid-March. And at least nine have been killed in South Africa – and that’s just the rhinos.
Tens of thousands of African elephants are poached each year for their ivory, and other endangered species are killed for their meat or the supposed healing properties of their organs.
It’s likely to get much worse until tourist numbers return to normal – meanwhile, Ryan and his team are prevented from being on the ground to make a difference.
What do you have to say now, PETA?
These animals are being killed in areas that are usually full of tourists – where they had grown accustomed to roaming safely knowing they had protectors.
I wonder what PETA and their anti-animal tourism activists would say about this situation.
“People actually saving animals by visiting refuges and sanctuaries?! That can’t be!”
Social Justice Warriors are eerily silent when they can’t say anything negative.
Doesn’t sound much like the “exploitation” they always speak of when it comes to wildlife tourism.
Africa, a continent with so much poverty, depends on the nearly 40 billion dollars that tourism brings in annually. The industry provides nearly 10 million jobs to locals. And wildlife conservation is not free – not by a long shot.
Those who have been fighting for decades on the frontlines in Africa are now the ones experiencing panic at what may become of some of the most endangered species on Earth.
Many of the national parks in Africa have closed. As locals are laid off and becoming desperate, poaching – without the watchful eyes of camps full of tourists – is becoming a tragic quick fix.
Africa is currently experiencing a surge in Coronavirus cases and could become the next epicenter with all the collateral damage that may entail.
On a continent already racked by poverty in many areas, the fear and uncertainty looks like it’s going to do irreparable harm to Africa’s most vital resource – its wildlife.
For now, the lack of travel to Africa looks like it may do far more harm than good for a very important part of its population.
With all the fear-mongering and economic damage this virus has brought with it, one of the greatest tragedies may be the extinction of species whose protectors are prevented from doing anything about it.