I trust I’m not enlightening anyone when I say that this pandemic has affected almost every conceivable facet of our daily lives. Learning how to safely indulge in my love of nature has been possibly the greatest of these every-day challenges. I knew I would have to learn a whole new etiquette regarding how to go on hikes safely. It was on a recent excursion- standing on the edge of the trail allowing an oncoming family to pass, frustrated at my inability to prevent my face covering from causing my hot breath to fog my glasses- that a question popped in my head. Well, less popped and more crashed through the walls of my consciousness like a rampaging bull. “WHAT ABOUT THE ANIMALS!?” When it is so hard to keep ourselves safe in these unprecedented times, how does one find the will to maintain the safety of wildlife. To answer this question I did a little research into how animal conservation organizations are coping amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
The primary response seems to have been an overwhelming outcry against wildlife trafficking and wet markets. Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease- meaning that it started in wildlife (see: SARS, swine flu, bird flu, etc.). At first it was believed that bats were the culprit, but now focus has shifted toward the pangolin as the source of the virus. Yes, the cute, harmless pangolin (Google them, they’re adorable) is likely the source of all this havoc. Mind you, there was no malicious intent on behalf of the pangolin. Alas, it was our mistreatment of these creatures that was to blame. Zoonotic viruses have always existed and always will. When we disturb and/or destroy ecosystems and their inhabitants, those viruses don’t disappear, they simply jump to our livestock and to us. Many organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Global Conservation Force are fighting to raise awareness and coming up with actual detailed plans of action in order the combat wildlife trafficking, especially wet markets such as the one in Wuhan, China from which Covid-19 is said to originate.
Another effect of the global pandemic is the huge drop in ecotourism. Many conservation organizations rely on revenues generated by ecotourism in order to fund their efforts. With global travel restrictions and shelter-in-place orders, these revenues have taken a steep decline. Many organizations with highly focused endeavors, such as the protection of a particular area or species might have to shut down. These organizations, such as the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Foundation and Panthera- a Columbian big cat conservancy, frequently hire rangers and surveillance equipment to protect habitats and wildlife from poachers, leading to fears of an unprecedented surge in illegal hunting in the wake of the pandemic. For example, in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, six black rhinos were killed by poachers in March alone, forcing an emergency evacuation of the rest. The job losses caused by the pandemic are expected to lead to a huge surge in demand for cheap bushmeat (a.k.a., wild game) across Africa. These are just a couple of examples of the unforeseen ripple effects of this pandemic on global wildlife. You can learn more about this subject here.
So what can you do to help? The easy answer is to find an organization with a mission that you care about and give what you can so that they will still be there when all this is over. We might not be able to take a diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef, but we can send what little monetary help we can to the people that help protect and sustain it. Finally, when we’re able to leave our homes freely, I encourage you to go out and explore as much as possible and do it responsibly. Volunteer whatever time and resources you can while these organizations rebuild. If you see a barren hillside in your travels, stop and plant some seeds. It is up to all of us to help improve and maintain a healthy environment in order to continuously reduce the likelihood of another catastrophe like the current pandemic. If you are interested in learning more about how some of the organizations are planning to take action, you can visit their websites via the above hyperlinks.
Keep it classy you animals,
Disclaimer/Credit: All photos are owned by or sourced through the relevant organization or our on staff photographer Elijah Aikens / IG @aikens.photoart
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