One of the most famous wildlife spectacles, the flamingoes of Lake Nakuru National Park are at risk of pandemics like bird flu
When we started WildlifeDirect, the idea was to address the chronic shortfall of funds for sustaining Africa’s protected areas, we believe that these parks and protected areas are key to the conservation and protection of the continents biological diversity. Recent trends have seen a significant shift in funding for these protected areas, from government funds to a dependency on tourism incomes. This tourism revenue is both a short term boon and a long term risk. Tourism is notoriously fickle and prone to external threats. For example, terrorism or disease pandemics.
Lions and other big cats are amongst the most vulnerable species
I believe that we have become complacent during these times of booming tourism, revenues appear safe, and are a growing means of financing essential conservation work in our protected areas. The sustainability of this income however, is a matter that has not been addressed. It could be interrupted at any moment, for example due to natural disasters, conflict, or acts of terrorism.
Imagine if you had planned a safari to Rwanda to see the rare mountain gorillas. After planning your holiday, a terrorist strike at the countries capital Kigali would result in an international travel warning that would discourage if not prevent you from traveling. Tourism revenues to the Rwandan authorities (ORTPN) would crash and they would have to cut back on protection of the area to avoid going broke. By the time the travel warning is lifted, the gorillas could all be gone, …dead – due to failure of enforcement to prevent illegal hunting, habitat destruction or the progress of the disease. They will never be back, lost forever.
It could happen to any country at any time.
With tourism revenues, we could afford to ensure that our Park Wardens were disciplined and competent.
In 1998 Kenya was attacked by Al Qaeda. We knew that the attack was not targeting our parks, however it affected us drastically. The result of travel restrictions and bad publicity led to a near collapse in our tourism industry due to negative travel advisories and even flight cancellations. Park revenues declined significantly, it was a disaster since protected area management costs were financed almost entirely from gate collections.
I remember that difficult time well because I was the Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service at that time. We were eventually able to convince the Kenya Government to come our rescue with a financial package that allowed us to limp along until the tourism industry recovered. Were it not for this support, we could have been overrun by armed poachers, and we would have lost our rhinos, our elephants and other species, because we couldn’t sustain basic operations and enforcement.
We were lucky that the Kenya government rescued us – the truth is it was for purely economic reasons, tourism contributes 12% of the country’s GDP. Most African governments however, will not have a rescue package for biodiversity disasters as there are so many other priorities like poverty, health and education. I am therefore convinced that we need to find another way to buy time for these countries, parks and protected areas during these critical times of need.
I can’t emphasize enough how precarious the funding situation can be for conservation. This is why WildlifeDirect really must establish a strong potential to raise significant funds for times of crises to enable countries to buy time for Conservation. We need to buy time for species and ecosystems for times when tourism or other incomes are not able to support the costs of management. If this can be achieved, one could visit a park at any time online, take a virtual tour even if a real visit was prevented due to disease or acts of terrorism. At least the wild animals and places would still be there for a real visit at a later date. All it would take is a few dollars from any many people to make it possible for us to buy time during these crises.
Conservation in the Aberdares National Park would not be possible without the support of local communities – this fence barrier keeps the peace. If tourism revenues declined this fence would not be maintained and the buffaloes and other large mammals would be at risk and a cause for conflict with the people.
White Rhinos went extinct in Kenya due to poaching – today you can see the southern race close up in Kenya following their reintroduction. Their calmness of these animlas reflects their sense of security.
I believe that there are tens of millions of people out there who care about wildlife and would be willing to make a 2 dollar donation to secure the future of wildlife. We are not asking for the crisis money now, we are proposing a ‘virtual endowment’, a promise if you like, that we can reach out to you at a later date when there is a critical need.
For this ‘virtual endowment’ to be effective in raising the hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars for rescuing biodiversity, then we need to grow WildlifeDirect’s ability to reach out to these millions, to keep them in touch with what is happening on the ground, and to respond with a small donation at a time of need. This network of people will be our virtual human endowment.
I would be very interested in hearing ideas on how we can develop this concept and to improve WildlifeDirect’s potential to provide biodiversity disaster relief. Do not hesitate to contact us with your thoughts and ideas on how we can tap into this massive global caring community that can help.
Technorati : Richard Leakey