By Brandon Presser
The Ebola pandemic in West Africa is having a disastrous effect on tourism on the whole continent. Now poaching is on the rise and wildlife conservation in peril.3,301. The number of miles between Nairobi and the Ebola outbreak zone in West Africa. That’s further from Liberia than London, Paris, Madrid and Rome, and yet Kenya is experiencing a major downturn in tourism.
Safari camps are empty, their staff are being sent home, and the wildlife is in jeopardy, yet Kenya—unlike the United States—has not registered a single case of the virus. In fact, there are no direct flights between the Ebola pandemic zone and Nairobi (passengers would have to connect in either Europe or the U.S.), and should a case somehow emerge the major hospitals are equipped to nullify the issue with the same efficacy as any American institution.
Yet despite the concrete statistics detailing the general improbability of an outbreak, tourism numbers continue to fall—and not just in Kenya, the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa is buckling under visitor losses from North America and Asia.
According to a recent survey on Safaribookings.com, which polled more than 500 operators across the continent, more than 50 percent of the participants said they registered cancellations as a result of Ebola fears, and 69 percent of the operators have clocked a noticeable decrease in future bookings.
More vital, however, than the alarming reduction in tourism dollars is the direct impact that the impaired economy will have on wildlife conservation—fewer visitors means fewer rangers and conservation funds. The Ebola pandemic has led to an increase in poaching in Eastern and Southern Africa, where there’s a palpable and immediate link between traveler funds and park protection.
“Conservancy money goes directly to the land and ranger’s wages. Without visitor income, there are simply insufficient funds to support this,” explains Jake Grieves-Cook, who runs the Porini safari camps and was the first chairman of the Kenyan Tourism Federation.
In many regions throughout Africa, the monetary value of a wilderness reserve is continuously pitted against the potential revenue that the land could earn when it’s used for agricultural or livestock purposes.
“If the tourism dollars from safari programs aren’t keeping the local economy afloat, and locals aren’t earning the money they were promised, then they will convert the land to, say, wheat. And once the land is converted to agriculture there’s no going back.” states Colin Bell, the well-known conservationist who co-founded Wilderness Safaris and Great Plains Conservation, and co-authored Africa’s Finest. “Once the land use has changed, wildlife cannot move somewhere else because they will be overcrowded—they’ll die,” adds Grieves-Cook.
More urgent, however, than the repurposing of arable lands and animal overcrowding is the sharp spike in poaching that systematically occurs when the tourist dollars become dire. Grieves-Cook documented 10 elephant deaths near his purview during the recent full moon (the choice time for hunting); merely one of the ever-increasing marauding incidents since the Ebola scare began.
“An increase in poaching happens when people who are dependent on tourism for their livelihood have to find other ways to survive,” explains Ashish Sanghrajka, the president of Big Five Tours & Expeditions. “Tragically, the easiest means of making quick money is the poaching of endangered species—especially elephant and rhino—which in turn affects the entire ecosystem.” More....