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It seems as though almost every country is dealing with the effects of COVID-19, but some areas are dealing with unique consequences. Most countries are implementing travel restrictions to protect their citizens from the virus. For South Africa, the lack of tourists has increased poaching in the country, undoing years of work to maintain a healthy local wildlife population growth.

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VETPAW is a group of United States veterans who protect African wildlife and train local rangers to fight against illegal poaching. They have been serving on South Africa’s frontlines before the pandemic hit the country and after its arrival. Here, they discuss how the virus is affecting anti-poaching organizations and the nation. 

South Africa’s Tourism Slowdown

According to the CDC, travelers should avoid visiting South Africa because of the increased risk of contracting COVID-19. If traveling is necessary, a negative COVID-19 test is required, and people must wear a mask during their stay while maintaining social distancing guidelines. These regulations have all but halted international tourism to South Africa.

The government currently encourages locals to travel to regional tourist destinations throughout the country to facilitate domestic tourism in place of international tourism. Despite this mitigation effort, there is not enough tourism money to make up for the financial hit the country is taking during the pandemic.

At the beginning of the pandemic, South Africa instituted a 21-day lockdown to curb the virus’s spread, but they increased the police presence along borders and major routes. Though this action may have reduced some poaching opportunities, tourists are the primary deterrent.

The Rise of Poaching

Without money from tourists and donations, many conservation parks and game reserves either closed their doors or drastically reduced their operations in the wake of COVID-19. Without adequate resources and staff, poachers have become fearless with their hunts. Many parks and reserves don’t have enough essential equipment or trained rangers to prevent poachers from harming endangered animals. 

Bushmeat Hunting

The lack of tourism is detrimental to impoverished areas relying on ecotourism for income. COVID-19 has severely affected African economies, and many people are out of work and desperate. In many cases, people turn to poaching and bushmeat hunting to make a living and feed their families.

Bushmeat hunting is the practice of hunting and selling wild animals for money. Some locals turn to bushmeat hunting because there are no tourists to sell their wares to, and they cannot earn money otherwise. 

COVID-19’s Effect on Anti-Poaching Organizations

A lack of tourism and country-wide travel restrictions also affect how anti-poaching organizations operate during the pandemic. Many organizations are struggling to remain operational from a lack of funding and key personnel’s inability to travel.

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VETPAW continues to work and fulfill its mission to protect wildlife from poachers while training park rangers to be more effective at their job. Though travel restrictions have made it more challenging to bring new members to South Africa, members already in the country continue to work at 100% effectiveness in three-month rotations to prevent burnout.

How You and VETPAW Can Help Slow Poaching

Wildlife conservation and anti-poaching measures rely on the generosity of others. You can help VETPAW continue its fight against poaching by donating to help them train rangers, educate local communities about the dangers of poaching, and purchase essential equipment. 

Visit VETPAW online to learn more or follow them on social media, for the organization’s latest news. You can also send your contributions to 41 Madison Ave, Suite 3100, New York, NY 10010.