It goes without saying that 2020 has been an unprecedented year. For rhinos, COVID-19- related lockdowns have brought poaching to a standstill in many areas, however lack of tourism has put jobs of the rangers on the frontlines protecting rhinos at risk. What does 2021 look like for African rhinos?
While travel slowly opens up again, protections remain in place to respond to new threats as a result of cost cutting decisions by parks and reserves and emergency funding provided by the International Rhino Foundation.
What is Happening?
- IRF established the Reserve Relief Fund in May, responding to urgent requests from game reserves and parks facing severe budget shortfalls as the result of the loss of tourism income in Southern Africa. The fund has given more than USD$260 000 in grants to help pay staff salaries and overtime, purchase health and safety equipment, and keep rhino protection units in the field where they are needed.
- Funding was awarded to Addo Elephant National Park, a conservation park situated close to Port Elizabeth in South Africa that is home to one of the largest populations of African black rhinos. 80% of the park’s support comes from tourism. During the country’s hard lockdown in early- to mid-2020, the park made budget cuts in some areas in order to keep protection units on the ground, but essential staff stayed in the park. The grant from IRF was used to fund the gaps in overtime pay and purchase equipment that rangers were preparing to do without.
- Addo supports local businesses and the local economy by attracting tourists from around the world that come to see its wildlife. The park normally runs at 90% capacity. The park is open again, but only at 40% capacity, and there are increased costs for personal protective equipment and increased cleaning protocols to keep guests safe. It may take up to three years for the park to fully recover, according to those working at the park.
Nina Fascione, IRF’s executive director, says, “It’s critical that monitoring, protection, and intelligence activities continue uninterrupted in 2021 to ensure the safety of African rhinos in southern Africa. There is a huge concern that poaching will rise with income and job losses.”
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She continues, “Rhinos and other wildlife are facing uncertain times ahead. Tourism revenue will not rebound quickly. It is critical that we continue to support the women and men who keep rhinos safe every day.”
- Authorities at the park are worried that poaching will rebound, as it “usually sees an increase in poaching at this time of year, as people want and need money. Need has likely increased because of the pandemic.”