Kafue National Park in the heart of Zambia is one of the largest protected areas in Africa, now is under threat of poachers, who can enter the park without worrying about running into safari operators and their guests. In the months since the pandemic began, bushmeat poaching in Kafue’s formerly secured core zones has returned to the same level as two years ago, before the security overhaul, Rachel Nuwer writes.
In her article she point out that from May to August 2019, for example, rangers recovered just 25 snares from boundary areas surrounding the core protection zones, whereas this year, they found 136 snares over the same period. The amount of bushmeat seized over the same period has also skyrocketed, from about 100 pounds last year to more than 3,300 pounds this year. Two lions – both breeding females – have been killed in the core protection zones, something that “just outright never happened” prior to the pandemic, Young-Overton says.
The pandemic will almost certainly leave long-lasting impacts on Kafue’s wildlife and surrounding communities, Young-Overton says. Animal populations take much longer to recover than to decline, and the cascade of local poverty brought about by COVID-19 will not resolve itself overnight.
Across Africa, where the vast majority of protected areas already operate on a shoestring budget, similar scenarios are playing out. The pandemic has laid bare what conservationists have been warning of for years: that support for Africa’s nature is grossly inadequate. But rather than just highlighting and exacerbating this fact, many experts believe that COVID-19 presents a unique opportunity to completely revamp the way the world approaches conservation in Africa, which is currently almost entirely reliant on the fickle tides of tourism and the whims of donors. Through the fog of struggle and loss, conservationists see a chance to rebuild the status quo into something that is significantly more self-sustaining, resilient, and equitable.
For the majority of protected areas, the sums brought in from tourism and other sources are far from adequate. According to a 2018 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper, many such reserves are “paper parks,” or areas designated for conservation solely in name. They lack the resources to actually implement conservation on the ground. The paper’s authors calculated that 90 percent of the nearly 300 protected savannah ecosystems in Africa they analysed face crippling funding deficits – to the collective tune of at least a billion dollars.