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Wilderness in waiting: Conservation during COVID-19

‘Wilderness in waiting’ is a four-part weekly series, highlighting Africa’s proud wildlife heritage during the COVID pandemic. Without the regular revenue-flow from tourism, many of the conservation and community projects caring for Africa’s most vulnerable wildlife and people are themselves, now under threat. I spoke with several luxury lodges around Africa to hear their reflections, what isbeing done to mitigate loss, and most importantly what we can do to support. The Grumeti, Malilangwe and Singita Lowveld Trusts Singita, one of Africa’s most well-known and loved group of lodges, has a proud 100-year vision to protect and preserve vast areas of African wilderness, carried out through three strategic trusts and funds, namely The Grumeti Fund in Tanzania, The Malilangwe Trust in Zimbabwe and then Singita Lowveld Trust in South Africa. These funds have been put to extensive work, providing emergency relief support for many vulnerable families needing food parcels, assistance for students needing data bundles and remote access, hand sanitizer and information pamphlets distribution, and much more. With the impact of the COVID pandemic on tourism, Singita’s CMO Lindy Rousseau is not afraid to spell out the harrowing situation: “Africa’s wildlife is under huge threat. Africa governments have little resources to be able to fund the critical work that needs to be done to save as much wilderness and wildlife as possible. Tourism represents one of the most viable ways to raise awareness and attract resources to help us save as much of Africa’s wilderness as we can. Tourism not only benefits local communities by providing much-needed employment and skills training, it also provides a future for these communities.” Inge Kotze, Conservation GM, adds that “human-wildlife conflict with communities bordering our protected areas is an ongoing challenge that requires constant monitoring and early detection to steer the animal back into the reserve. Any form of crop damage or loss of livestock is detrimental, but now even more so than ever.” Donations to sustain the conservation efforts are gladly welcome for Tanzania’s Grumeti Fund, Zimbabwe’s Malilangwe Fund, and South Africa’s Singita Lowveld Trust. The Africa Foundation The Africa Foundation is the conservation arm of &BEYOND and is active in an astounding 73 communities around Africa, including South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia where lodges have a footprint. Speaking into the current situation, Valeri Mouton of &BEYOND told me: “People is the heart of who and what we do, so also supporting our community development partner, Africa Foundation, in its call for assistance to the 73 communities surrounding our lodge operations with key projects specifically water and sanitisation projects to increase our communities resilience to Covid-19.” Find out more and donate to this worthy cause at africafoundation.org.za/donate. Wilderness Wildlife Trust Concerns have been voiced repeatedly around the possibility of increased poaching during this period. Dr Neil Midlane, Wilderness Safaris’ Sustainability Manager comments that: “We expect commercial poaching syndicates to capitalise on this moment by expanding their efforts to obtain ivory, rhino horn, bushmeat, and other wildlife products. It is for this reason that we have made numerous alternative plans through our Group Sustainability Fund and through our non-profit partner, the Wilderness Wildlife Trust, to continue to protect our wilderness areas and their priceless assets.” “With funding from our non-profit partner, the Wilderness Wildlife Trust, and from our Wilderness Safaris Group Sustainability Fund, we have contributed the funding required to support conservation efforts in Hwange, including keeping the Scorpion Anti-Poaching Unit operational, as well as rhino monitors in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.” Also commenting on the human-wildlife conflict challenge, Dr Mildane reminds us that this could be an even greater challenge. “In our Namibia concessions, we continue to assist mitigation efforts in these areas, including a recent grant from the Wilderness Wildlife Trust to the Desert Lion Conservation Project, to support their innovative lion early warning systems and lion ranger teams. We also recently launched an innovative community farming project in Botswana to address this issue.” Watch this stirring clip below or visit wildernesstrust.com/donate to support.
YouTube video
How you can help The sad reality is that not all lodges or funds will be able to sustain themselves longterm, so if you have the means to offer support please do so. If you’re dreaming up your next vacation, bear in mind that with a trip to Africa you’re not only supporting conservation, but a safari experience also ticks the box as an excellent socially-distancing vacation. Most importantly, if you’ve got a trip planned, please postpone rather than cancel. Some of the planet’s most vulnerable wild spaces depend on it.

Jared Ruttenberg

Jared Ruttenberg is a freelance travel journalist who enjoys connecting people and experiences through word, image and social media. Read more at www.jaredincpt.com

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  1. I’ve been reading about conservation in the uk and with many zoos struggling to stay afloat so I can only imaging the impact on the large efforts in Africa given the lack of travel and tourism. I know it’s bad for shops and businesses right now but people can forget that things like the natural world and animals and all the associated needs can’t just stop and be put on hold. There still needs to be money going in to it all, people there to do the work, and it’s awful to think the environment or animals may suffer as a result. I hope it doesn’t come to that, especially with governments there without the funds to provide enough support. This post just highlights how important tourism really is where it matters the most. Food for thought and thank you for sharing the links to donate, I’ll happily make a donation and share this for others to contribute if they’re able to as well.

    1. Teresa, thank you for your response and willingness to help. Indeed the conservation plight has the possibility to be forgotten in the midst of the mania. And sadly some projects won’t survive – or will be paused at a loss to our wildlife. But there is some hope – and you sharing this is part of that so thank you!

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