By Sharon Atieno
Like other sectors of the economy, COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on wildlife conservation in the East African Community (EAC). The lockdowns, travel restrictions and other measures to contain the spread of the virus have severely affected the sector.
Speaking in a virtual meeting held by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, Christophe Bazivamo, Deputy secretary general productive and social sectors-EAC, noted that tourism which is a key contributor to wildlife conservation in the region has reduced by 40% and will likely drop to 60% if the pandemic persists.
This has in turn led to tourism revenue losses across the six Member States. Kenya, for instance, has experienced a 92% drop in revenue since COVID-19 hit the country while in Uganda; the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is currently losing over USD 2 million in tourism revenue per month.
Bazivamo adds that livelihood stresses have led to increased poaching of bush meat such as giraffes, antelopes, dik diks among others.
“Between January to May, 2019, we recovered 1.8 tonnes of bush meat whereas in the same period in 2020, we have recovered 2.8 tonnes,” noted Brig. (Rtd) John Waweru, Director General, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
“There is no killing of big game but there is high incidence of killing for bush meat,” says Sam Mwandha , Executive director UWA.
He notes that handling wildlife criminal suspects has been made complex due to the need to minimize risks of spreading COVID-19. Cases being prosecuted are low and suspects are released on bail which presents a risk of re-engaging in poaching.
Other challenges posed by COVID-19 on wildlife conservation in the region, include: increased human wildlife conflict, loss of revenue for local communities, loss of tourism and conservation related jobs as well as reduced foreign aid, according to the EAC official.
However, there are combined and individual measures put in place by Member states including joint strategies to boost recovery of the tourism sector.
In Kenya, around USD 20 million has been set aside for conservation, with USD 10 million allocated to community conservancies and the remaining amount allocated towards recruitment and training of games guards, Waweru says.
He further notes the use of technology, such as the creation of virtual tourism platform and use of drones to enhance anti-poaching operations.
Rwanda has rallied behind a regional plan of action that leverages greater technological adoption, and private sector engagement to boost recovery of the tourism sector, according to Eugene Mutangana, Head of Conservation at Rwanda Development Board.
“The tourism recovery strategy in the region should focus on enhanced public private partnerships, ICT integration and tax waivers to boost growth of domestic market,” said Mutangana.
In Uganda, the low revenue has led to partnerships, collaboration, coordination and working with other conservation agencies, and friends of conservation around the globe to ensure the protection of the wildlife resource.