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Covid and African conservation

The impact of Covid-19 has been far reaching in a way that few of us thought possible; literally bringing the planet to its knees within a very short space of time. But little is mentioned when it comes to the effects of Covid-19 on conservation, particularly in South Africa where ecotourism brings in an estimated R323 billion per year - much of which goes back into the protection of these wildlife areas.

South Africa is one of the most magical places you could dream of venturing to. Packed full of wonder and amazement in the form of National parks and privately owned game reserves, South Africa boasts a vast array of flora and fauna including the iconic big 5 of elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and buffalo. As well as scenery that will take your breath away, it is a must on most people’s bucket list.

But the pandemic has reaped unimaginable destruction on South Africa’s tourism industry with Statistics South Africa reporting a 71% decrease in foreign arrivals between 2019 and 2020. Catastrophic in a country where roughly 4.5% of the population work in tourism and need that income to support their families, meaning millions of people rely on the tourism sector for their very survival.

The devastating reality is that with South Africa largely shut to the rest of the world. The consequences are bleak for this amazing country’s people and its wildlife. A large percentage of tourism income goes back into both conservation and the community, directly funding things like education programmes and Anti-Poaching Units, as well as much more vital work. The pandemic has left a population already struggling with huge levels of unemployment, in absolute ruin, taking levels of poverty to a new low.

When Covid first hit, South Africa went into a strict lockdown. This, coupled with a shutdown in international travel, meant that it was nigh on impossible to poach or traffic wildlife. As a result, rhino poaching incidents dropped dramatically in the first half of 2020. In the short term this was good new for conservation but in the long term the lack of funding is proving to be an absolute disaster. International travel is again back on the rise, this time coupled with even more horrific levels of unemployment and desperation, meaning the threat to wildlife is greater than ever before.

Poaching of wildlife is often a direct result of living in dire poverty and the desperation that brings. Along the Western boundaries of Kruger National Park are some 2 million people living in extreme poverty. Many within a stone’s throw of a park that has seen a 70% decrease in its rhino population in just ten years, due to high levels of poverty driven poaching. The world-famous National Park, one of the last strongholds of rhino left on the planet, could see this majestic animal go extinct within another decade if trends continue.

This situation would be bleak enough if it wasn’t for the fact that the money needed to protect these stunning creatures is dramatically drying up. Many reserves across South Africa and the rest of the world have had to reduce their Anti-Poaching Units, unable to foot the bill, with next to no tourism income coming in. A population in the midst of ever-growing poverty, coupled with a lack of funds to protect wildlife areas, spells disaster for conservation.

So, what do we do? UK tourists make up a large percentage of travelers that, in normal times, make the most of South Africa’s magic. We can’t simply turn our backs on what we love and hope they pull through. In the true spirit of Ubuntu, an African philosophy meaning ‘I am because we are’, we must pull together and show solidarity to not only our African friends but also to Africa’s awe-inspiring wildlife. As well as this, our very survival on this planet is reliant on the survival of earth’s biodiversity. We must do what we can to protect it, especially with Africa being one of the most biodiverse places on the planet!

Connected Planet Foundation is proud to announce that we will be standing by our friends in Africa and working closely with two organisations, supporting both community and conservation from here in the UK.

Firstly, through our Ubuntu programme, we will be working alongside Nourish NPO; a community conservation charity on the edge of Kruger National Park, who help to build resilience and hope in the poverty-stricken community of Acornhoek. Their goal is to provide long term and sustainable change to the community, as well as reconnecting them to their wildlife heritage through an extensive environmental education programme that involves taking children in Kruger National Park and the surrounding reserves to see its stunning wildlife. Often for the first time. Their approach is to fight poaching through fighting the poverty that causes it.

We will be not only raising funds to support Nourish - in particular raising funds for their own bus to take the children on these incredible conservation trips - but also partnering schools here in the UK with schools connected to Nourish’s outreach work in South Africa, in a unique opportunity for both sides to learn about each other’s culture, heritage and wildlife.

Secondly, we will be working with Nambiti Game Reserve; a big five game reserve located in KwaZulu Natal, in a bid to support their Anti-Poaching Unit, so that they can continue to protect Africa’s most iconic wildlife like rhino and elephant. Nambiti’s Anti-Poaching Unit are a highly dedicated and passionate team of rangers, who put their lives on the line every time they go on patrol, whilst protecting the animals that call Nambiti home. We will be raising funds to support Nambiti’s Anti-Poaching operations, providing vital kit like boots for the rangers to wear, as well as supporting essential conservation work like the dehorning of rhino - the latest deterrent in the fight against poaching. In turn, they will be providing us with examples of the amazing conservation work they do, so we can see what conservation looks like on a reserve in Africa!

At Connected Planet Foundation we believe that working to support both community conservation efforts as well as front line conservation work will go along way to fighting the battle against poaching and wildlife crime. It is easy to feel helpless in this battle to support both people and wildlife, but with Ubuntu in our hearts we will try our best to make a difference from here in the UK.

We will be holding a special boot camp for World Ranger Day on the 31st July at 11am, in Hurst Park, Molesey, to raise funds for Nambiti’s Anti-Poaching Unit and as an act of support for the heroic work these incredible rangers do. It’s sure to be a fun-filled morning of running, crawling shouting and burpee-ing. Tickets are £5 and all proceeds will go towards buying some new boots for the rangers, making their patrols that bit more comfortable and all the safer. This is a family-friendly event and everyone is welcome. Sign up here.

If you can’t make the boot camp but would like to donate to our work in Africa you can do so here. Please reference Nourish or Nambiti to tell us which project you would like to support. Your money will go a long way to supporting the work of both Nourish and Nambiti and help to protect both people and the planet.

Together we can make a difference. Together we can make change.

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