By Paul M.J. Suchecki
Since its founding in 1998, the Wyss Foundation has been known for its conservation grants, but until recent years the awards have primarily reflected the founder, Hansjörg Wyss’ personal experience in the American wilds.
Wyss, though, has plenty of resources to branch out into new areas of giving and perhaps feels some urgency to step things up. A Giving Pledge signatory who is 80 years old, he's worth $6 billion. Earlier this year, the Wyss Foundation poured a bunch of new money into environmental journalism. Late last year, it jumped into ocean conservation in a big way.
Now Wyss is putting substantial funds into anti-poaching efforts.
The foundation recently announced a new $6 million commitment to wildlife conservation in Africa as part of a growing, worldwide effort to combat a nearly $20 billion-a-year illegal poaching business to supply an insatiable appetite in wild animal parts that is devastating to the world’s elephant and rhino populations. In some primarily Asian cultures, consuming ivory is thought to remedy a slew of maladies from easing hangovers to curing cancer.
Wyss isn't the only billionaire philanthropist increasingly worried about this problem. Paul Allen has also jumped into the anti-poaching fight at a high level in recent years.
Recent studies have revealed that the illegal ivory trade has more than doubled since 2007. To single out just one country, a record 1,215 of South Africa's 22,000 rhinos were killed last year; 2015 could be worse. African elephants, the biggest land mammals on the planet, could soon be eliminated from some parts of the continent. In Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve alone, an aerial wildlife census funded by Germany determined that elephant numbers had plummeted from over 39,000 in 2009 to just over 13,000 in 2013. Between 2010 and 2013, 4,692 illegally exported Tanzanian elephant tusks, weighing more than 39,000 pounds, were seized by customs officials at overseas ports.
The foundation grants are going to international and local non-governmental organizations that are taking on poachers in Rwanda, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Mozambique.
“The explosion in the illegal ivory trade is not only pushing elephant and rhino populations toward extinction, but it is threatening the economic futures of local communities across eastern Africa,” Wyss said. “We are proud to support local and international efforts to protect the beautiful and immense parks of eastern Africa so that future generations can experience the elephants, rhinos, and natural wonders that draw visitors from around the world.”
The grants are going to African Parks to help stop poaching in Akagera National Park in Rwanda, in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park and in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. The Wyss Foundation is also increasing its support for the Frankfurt Zoological Society’s efforts to protect Zambia’s only black rhinos and the country’s largest elephant population in North Luangwa National Park, as well as the society’s combating poaching in Serengeti National Park and Selous Game Reserve.
Grants announced include support for the Wildlife Conservation Society to protect Ruaha National Park in Tanzania, Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, and Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique. The TsavoTrust in Kenya was awarded funds for habitat protection. The International Fund for Animal Welfare, WildAid, and C4ADS got grants to strengthen law enforcement and build awareness campaigns to reduce the demand for ivory.
Recently, WildAid reported that shark fin sales plummeted by 82 percent in Guagzhou Province, China. Surveys there credited public awareness campaigns, so maybe there’s a glimmer of hope for Africa’s rhinos and elephants.
This is the Wyss Foundation’s first major, multi-grant commitment to conserving wildlife in Eastern Africa. We doubt it will be its last. And we wouldn't be surprised to see the Wyss Foundation branch into other new areas of giving in coming years.