At the Tsavo Trust, we’ve recently been made happy hearing positive news pieces regarding possible ends to restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus. Across the world, vaccine roll-out programmes have begun in earnest. Here in Kenya, we are yet to receive any vaccines but we take positivity from the fact that orders of these life-saving injections have been made.
Furthermore, with the President set to make an address of the nation in the first week of next month, a way out of restrictions may soon be made clear.
These are all positive developments and may prove to be the beginning steps on the road to some semblance of normality. That’s what a lot of us have been waiting so patiently for: normality. It represents the freedom to travel without restrictions. It means the ability to visit family and friends across the globe. It will give us the opportunity to rebuild damaged trade links.
Normality has come to represent recovery to many of us. For conservationists, this is partly true. Tourism and its related industries provides a lot of the funding necessary to keep conservation efforts afloat. Furthermore, a great many conservation organisations are charities and are thus reliant on the donations, and expendable income, of wealthy benefactors.
However, ‘normality’ represents something else for conservationists. Before the Coronavirus came, our ‘normality’ was defined by hard-fought and often small victories. It was characterized by ever increasing odds stacked against our wildlife. And it often seemed as if the battle to preserve the world’s wild spaces would be lost to the excesses of human greed and consumption.
Coronavirus: neither wholly good nor wholly bad for conservation
The effect the Coronavirus has had on conservation cannot be simply pigeon-holed. It was neither wholly good for wildlife nor was it wholly bad.
In Venice, locals saw a return of dolphins to canals previously too full of boats to allow for the aquatic mammals. Here in Tsavo, we watched as the prevalence of snares increased as food markets were closed and people resorted once more to illegal bush-meat hunting.
In Thailand, with tourism down, beaches previously filled with holiday goers and sun-bathing locals have seen a return of reef sharks and egg-laying leatherback turtles. But in South Africa and Botswana, with tourists no longer acting as unofficial guards to the countries’ rhino, poaching for rhino horn saw a spike after local lockdowns were announced.
We have proven that we can do things differently even if it required a pandemic to put that ability into practice. And, recently, our team of writers at the Tsavo Trust highlighted another example of behavioural change as it pertains to conservation.
We wrote an article recently on the Nashulai conservancy, one of the first local-led and operated conservancies in Kenya. It’s example represents a shift in attitude toward conservation and a great leap forward if we are to find a way of coexisting peaceably with animals on this planet.
There are other examples of a change in behaviour of our species. For Rangers Adventures is a Safari tour company that applies its proceeds to the protection of wildlife ranger services. Rangers are constantly employed in some of the wildest habitats the world has to offer and they frequently run in with armed poachers. What’s more, they are sometimes viewed as the enemy by famine-stricken, circumstance-enforced poachers from their communities.
For Rangers Adventures recognises this difficulty and uses the considerable funds generated from the safari industry to pay for their protection. It is a great example of changing our way of thinking to the planet’s, and in this case humanity’s betterment.
So, while there is no easy, one-word answer to the question of whether the coronavirus helped or hindered global conservation, it is clear that it has made us think about our behaviour. At the Tsavo Trust, we hope that whatever behavioural shifts this thought promotes acts to preserve this planet for future generations.