Is COVID-19 killing East Africa Wildlife Conservation?

Jul 8, 2020 | News

By Checky Abuje, Africa Science News

Covid19 is threatening East Africa with Wildlife conservation and experts now claim the sector is at the verge of collapse due to limited or no activities thanks to stringent measures governments have put in place to mitigate the spread.

The reduced activities have on the other hand given room to poaching and Illegal trade and Trafficking of Wildlife and Wildlife products from game-parks.

According to Bashir Hangi, Communications Manager, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Uganda, Covid19 has negatively impacted operations of Wildlife in Uganda following movement restrictions occasioned by lock-downs and curfews across the block where the majority of employees in the Tourism sector have lost jobs.

Addressing East Africa Science Journalists drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda through a webinar meeting, Bashir noted that Ugandan government loses more than USD 2million monthly from the sector due to effects of Covid19.

He said the limited surveillance has also seen a surge in cross border poaching is on the rise.  “Poaching and Illegal trade of Wildlife has gone a notch higher during this period of Covid19 as experienced on our borders,” observed Bashir.

Bashir said Illegal Wildlife Trade is thriving across the borders and called on Journalists to heighten their reporting on environment and conservation to give the sector a voice.

This implies that quick measures need to be adopted amongst the regional players in the Tourism industry to salvage the already crippled “the Pride of Africa” sector.

Bashir said lessons and experiences show that Wildlife crime has various inter-related dimensions and tackling the challenge requires interventions focusing on the supply chain in the source, transit and destination countries. at this point, regional collaboration strategy is key.

East Africa being the home of Fauna and Flora, he said the continued rising graph of Corona Virus infections in the region spells doom to scenic destinations of East Africa. However, attention has been drawn to loosening measures against Covid19.

For instance, noted Bashir, the Ugandan government is now going slow on strict movement restrictions as is also observed in Kenya with an aim of resuscitating the dwindling economies.

Some of the Fauna and Flora in East African game parks include Elephants, Lions, Chimpanzees and Wild beasts. Others are Antelopes, Statungas, Mountain Gorillas and Wild dogs among many others. Trans-boundary Ecosystems like Sio-Siteko wetlands that cut across Kenya and Uganda cannot miss a mention of the Scenic Flora and Fauna sites in East Africa that are under threat.

Dedan Ngatia, a researcher at Mpala game park in Kenya and also an expert on Wild dogs sheds light on the challenges the Fauna is facing.

Despite the stabilizing trend of Wild dogs, the general population of Wildlife is diminishing regionally because according to Ngatia, the Fauna is endangered species as a result of Human-wildlife interactions more so during this time of Coronavirus infection.

Zoonotic diseases infections from Wildlife to humans is another threat where 60,000 deaths and 2,000 infections respectively are recorded in Kenya annually.

Global Environmental crime accounts for USD213billion with Wildlife trafficking alone attributing to USD23billion an indication that Tourism is losing significant revenue to poachers and illegal trade.

However, Tourism in East Africa still has the potential to generate significant sustainable livelihoods and National economic returns. In Uganda for instance, Tourism contributes about USD 1.5Million into the economy, a positive indicator that all is not lost for East African Tourism sector.

Proper governance, characterized by accountability, rigorous evidence-based policies and action-driven genuine appreciation of the intrinsic value of the majestic East African Fauna and Flora is what is needed in the sector to regain its former glory.

African countries are now at the peak of the virus infection after US and Europe, it is becoming increasingly impossible for East Africa governments to be in full control of Wildlife activities, thus creating room for Poaching.

Admitting the reality, East African community secretary General Amb. Liberet Mfumukeko says Wildlife Conservation in East Africa has had challenges and Covid19 emergency complicates the already fragile sector, adding that the EAC block has crafted measures to address the regional and continental threats of the escalating level of poaching, illegal Wildlife trade, trafficking of Wildlife and its products and the Corona Virus infections.

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