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Covid-19 tourism slowdown threatens African rhinos

Covid-19 tourism slowdown threatens African rhinos

With thick cheeks, the African buffalo looks at the intruders in the dark green safari vehicle. It is by far the most massive herd in the South African Phinda Private Game Reserve. The animals are distributed between tree and shrub plants.

Only thanks to the ranger that accompanies the visitors in the car can they spot two white rhinos behind the buffalo. A cow with her calf. The mother animal does not bother human visitors. When she lowers her head again, you notice: the horn is missing. It was sawn off just above the root. Because without horn, poachers lack the main incentive to shoot the animal.

Protection projects for rhinos in South Africa are costly and time-consuming. “Good showcase projects should take a holistic approach. Local communities, protected area management, government and businesses should be considered, ”said Katharina Trump. She is an expert on illegal species trade at the nature conservation organization WWF Germany.

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Most rhinos in South Africa today live on private land and belong to the landowners. The private reserve Phinda in southeastern South Africa is almost 30. 000 hectares. Employees guard the area in anti-poaching towers. Security personnel regulate access. Scientists and rangers document the animals‘ populations.

It is rarely financially worthwhile. Private protected areas often rely on donations and visitors. However, as a result of the corona pandemic, tourists fail to appear and there is a lack of income for the protection of the area. The World Tourism Organization of the United Nations (UNWTO) estimates the global slump in tourist numbers for the year 2020 at 60 to 80 Percent.

The tourists are also missing as a deterrent for poachers

procedures such as the removal of Horns are expensive. Helicopters are used to stun the animals with guns. Teams remove the horns on the ground. And the staff who patrol the game reserves also want to be paid. In addition, the tourists are also a direct deterrent to the poachers.

Two rhinoceros live in Africa with the white and black rhinoceros. The International Union for Conservation of Nature gives the population of white rhinos with around 18 000 to whom the black rhino with round 5600. The black rhino has disappeared into many habitats. In the 1960 years lived still estimated 100. 000 animals in Africa, 30 Years later it was close 2500.

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Around 80 percent of all rhinos live in South Africa. Other populations exist among others in Namibia, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Current statistics are difficult to get. The absolute number of rhinos that fall victim to poaching is declining. After almost 1400 animals per year 2015 the number fell to 2018 less than 1000 Animals per year that are poached. “However, this could at least partly be due to the fact that there are simply fewer animals for poaching,” Trump explains.

On their website, conservation organizations are already warning of the consequences of the corona crisis and are calling to donate to. Travel to the project areas is not possible until further notice. With the entry into force of the nationwide lockdown, the South African government ordered the closure of all tourist accommodations.

Many become unemployed, the sale of horns attracts

In the areas themselves curfews complicate the work of gamekeepers and rangers. Many people are currently unemployed. The sale of ivory or the horns of rhinos remains a potential source of income.

Poaching continues to be a danger: “Since the beginning of the poaching wave around ten years ago, the growth of both African species has been massively slowed down, ”Trump explains. “The stocks of white rhinos have even recently declined.”

The demand for rhinoceros horn remains high. In Asia, the horn is said to have a medical effect, for example against headaches, and it is simply a status symbol, for example as an addition to drinks. Like human fingernails, it consists largely of keratin.

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Black market prices fluctuate widely, but the horn is considered one of the most valuable illegal wildlife products and is sometimes traded at the gold price level. “The destruction of illegal retail chains and, above all, the reduction in demand is important in order to really get the problem under control,” said Trump.

In private protected areas, operators hope to be able to maintain their measures. The removal of the horns must be repeated regularly. The horns grow six to eight and a half centimeters a year. Due to the enormous effort, only small protected areas can carry out such a procedure.

In addition there are measures such as intensive surveillance, patrol trips and the involvement of the local population. Income from wildlife tourism helps to recognize the economic value of intact ecosystems. “Local communities have been involved in Phinda from the start. Everyone here understands that they benefit from the wildlife, ”says Simon Naylor, Reserve Manager in Phinda.

A flight to the wild in Botswana costs 50. 000 Dollar

The program is going well. While several animals fall victim to poachers annually in the neighboring state national park Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, the last loss of this species was in Phinda years ago. The comprehensive protection program makes it possible.

The company operates “ beyond” lodges in the Phinda Private Game Reserve. The proce can partially fund procedures such as horn removal and support resettlement projects. 87 Rhinos have so far been moved from South Africa to Botswana to release the animals in the Okavango Delta, for example. Several animals came from Phinda. Up to 50.000 It costs US dollars to fly a rhino from South Africa to Botswana.

“It is difficult see how the pandemic will develop demand for rhino products, ”says Les Carlisle, project manager of the rhinos protection organization“ Rhinos Without Borders ”. So far, the pandemic has had an impact on the absence of tourists, including in Phinda. And it is not foreseeable when the urgently needed income for wildlife protection in Africa will be available again.