What is COVID’s impact on conservation in Africa?

A look at how conservation and rural communities across Africa have been affected by COVID-19

If you weren’t able to join our live event, we’ve provided a link to the recording below. Here’s another opportunity to connect with a range of experts from across the continent as they discuss the effects of the pandemic on communities and conservation, and also to find out what efforts are being made to negate them.

This crisis has starkly demonstrated that the wildlife tourism sector is a major economic sector, benefitting both conservation and communities that depend upon it.

Dr Anna Spenceley,
Founding director of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council

Meet our panel of experts

While the link between COVID-19 and conservation may not be immediately obvious to many, the knock-on effects of the pandemic for Africa’s wild places and the communities that surround them is estimated to be immense. With Africa’s game reserves empty of tourists, where is the funding for their upkeep to come from?

Our panel of experts brings their insights, learning and experiences to the table to highlight the economics of conservation and to discuss how best to care for the continent’s biodiversity while balancing the urgent needs of its rural populations.

HOST: Sue Snyman

Ecotourism, environmental education and community development specialist

Dr Sue Snyman holds a Master of Business Science and a PhD in Economics from the University of Cape Town. She also completed PhD courses at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, focusing on the socio-economic impact of high-end ecotourism in remote communities living in, or adjacent to, protected areas.

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During the course of her research, Sue has conducted over 1,800 community interviews in six southern African countries. Her research and academic publications have helped prove that, when practiced responsibly, ecotourism has had a significant impact on the standard of living of rural people engaged in the industry, as well as on attitudes towards conservation and education.

Sue has held various roles in sustainability, community development and biodiversity conservation throughout Africa and has a rare blend of academic and practical skills.

Barry Mthembu

&Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, Habitat Manager

What impact has COVID-19 had on managing conservation in a private game reserve? What role has the close relationship between &Beyond Phinda and the surrounding communities played during this challenging time?

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Growing up in the rural community of Makhasa on the border of &Beyond Phinda, Barry joined the Phinda team as a trainee butler. In spite of growth and success in his original role, Barry was driven by the undeniable desire to become a guide. This eventually earned him a place in &Beyond ranger programme, where he excelled.

Going on to earn a certification in nature conservation, Barry would steadily work his way up to Head Ranger before joining Phinda’s habitat team, where he proudly oversees the reserve’s land management. Barry’s understanding of the reserve’s needs and his close ties with the local community give him a unique understanding of the complex model that underpins the relationship between Phinda and its neighbours.

Drew McVey

WWF International, East Africa Wildlife Crime Technical Advisor

How are conservation areas, tourism and local communities in East Africa standing up to COVID-19? Has the banning of wildlife trade had any impact, or have lockdowns resulted in more opportunities for poachers?

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Drew McVey has spent 20 years working in wildlife conservation in eastern and southern Africa. For the past 10 years, Drew has worked for the World Wildlife Fund to provide support in wildlife conservation and protected areas. Hailing from South Africa, Drew has extensive experience working on the ground in protected areas and has a particular interest in the interactions between people and wildlife.

Drew is currently the WWF Wildlife Crime Advisor in East Africa, and focuses on key conservation areas like the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, as well as the wider region of East Africa. He has examined the impact of COVID-19 on tourism, local communities, wildlife and the institutions designed to protect it, as well as formulating ideas of what needs to be done as a response.

Chris Galliers

Game Rangers' Association of Africa, Executive Committee Member

What is the role of a game ranger in wildlife management? What additional challenges has COVID-19 brought to this role? Is it still true that conservation can bring about better economic returns for local communities than other land uses?

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After achieving a degree in the Natural Sciences, Chris has worked in conservation for 15 years. His experience includes reserve and wildlife management, large mammal capture and translocation, lecturing game ranch management, eco-tourism, conservation project management, developing wildlife economies (particularly within community landscapes) and working on environmental governance issues and environmental education.

Chris has served as Chairman of the Game Rangers Association of Africa, and is President of the International Ranger Federation and Director of the Thin Green Line Foundation. He works for Conservation Outcomes, a non-profit organisation created to provide support to land that is being developed and managed for biodiversity conservation outside of traditional state protected areas.

Fran Read

African Parks, Global Media Manager

How has COVID-19 affected the factors contributing to the conservation crisis? Has the tourism ban impacted the ability to create revenue and provide security in national parks? How can we work around COVID-19 in ensuring sustainability?

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African Parks is a non-profit conservation organisation that takes on total responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments and local communities. By adopting a business approach to conservation, supported by donor funding, it aims to rehabilitate each park, making them ecologically, socially and financially sustainable in the long-term.

African Parks has 19 parks under management in 11 countries, with over 14.2 million hectares under protection. It focusses on economic development and poverty alleviation in neighbouring communities, ensuring they benefit from the parks’ existence.

Its goal is to manage 30 parks by 2030, the largest and most ecologically diverse portfolio of parks under management by any one organisation across Africa.

Tessa Hempson

Oceans Without Borders, Programme Manager & Principal Scientist

Has there been an increase in overfishing as people turn to the ocean to supplement income lost to COVID-19? Did the global lockdown have a positive effect on marine wildlife, or is there an increased risk from discarded protective wear?

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Dr Tessa Hempson is Programme Manager & Principal Scientist for Oceans Without Borders, a project partnership between &Beyond and Africa Foundation dedicated to marine conservation and community development in East Africa. She is also an Adjunct Researcher at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Australia, where she completed her PhD.

Oceans Without Borders offers a unique platform for bringing together diverse stakeholders to address the complex inter-related challenges facing marine conservation. At a local scale, Tessa’s work in East Africa focuses on the links between coastal communities and the marine resources on which they depend. At a global scale, she endeavours to raise awareness around marine conservation issues.

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