Fewer tourists meant less money for wildlife during the pandemic – but there’s an alternative

Elephant family

Nature is healing” read social media posts at the outset of the pandemic, as birdsong replaced the drone of traffic during lockdown. But for wildlife conservation in Africa, the reality was very different. Anti-poaching operations in protected areas were paused or restricted to limit the spread of the virus, leaving populations of threatened species like the African lion vulnerable. Now these areas are confronting COVID-19’s economic fallout, and research suggests that illegal huntingmining, deforestation, and bushmeat consumption all tend to increase during downturns.

Safari tours and other forms of wildlife tourism in Africa generate more than US$29 billion each year. Whether it’s the salaries of park rangers or money for community outreach and education, much of the funding for conservation comes from this tourism revenue, including 80% of the annual budget of South African National Parks. Travel restrictions during the pandemic have gutted visitor numbers, with 90% of African tour operators reporting a drop in bookings of three-quarters or more. Many protected areas were suffering severe budget shortfalls even before the pandemic.

COVID-19 exposed the fragility of this model of conservation, but is there another way?

Conservation basic income

The idea of a conservation basic income (CBI) was recently proposed to fund efforts to safeguard biodiversity. The concept is simple: people living alongside endangered wildlife receive an unconditional monthly income to reduce their dependence on hunting for bushmeat or chopping down trees for timber and firewood.

You may have already heard of something similar. Several economists and politicians have suggested that governments could improve social security by paying each citizen a universal basic income – a regular and guaranteed payment sufficient to cover basic needs, including food and housing.

This is an excerpt from an article by Joseph Hamm, originally published by The Conversation.

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