2020 was a tough year for everyone as Covid-19 spread around the world and millions suffered illness, loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, and loss of liberty as lockdown restrictions kept so much of the world inside to stop the spread of the virus.
2020 was a bad year for conservation. The loss of funds from tourism left a large hole in the finances of organisations working to protect wildlife, who had to scramble to raise donations to cover their losses.
At the same time as conservation organisations had less funds, the threats to wildlife they had to fight grew exponentially. Job losses, poverty and hunger all increased, forcing more and more people to depend on the natural environment for their survival, increasing poaching for bushmeat and deforestation for charcoal, timber and clearing land for agriculture.
But conservationists are not be defeated, and the courage and persistence of those working to save wildlife and habitat around the world is to be greatly admired, as they have stayed at their posts and done everything they can to keep animals and our environment safe.
As the vaccine rollout gathers pace around the world and the end of restrictions are in sight, what does 2021 look like for conservation?
1) Awareness: a pandemic that seems to have been caused by the global illegal wildlife trade has shown the world the tremendous cost of our mistreatment of wildlife, and the huge health and financial risks we will face if we do not better protect wild animals. The risks of zoonotic diseases have been known for decades, but the pandemic should place the risk at the forefront of people’s minds and win further support for conservation.
2) Tourism: tourism is likely to kick start again towards the middle and end of the year, bringing much-needed visitors and revenues to national parks around the world. While the return of visitors is welcome, the pandemic has shown that tourism alone is not enough to save wildlife. It is very valuable – areas where tourists visit usually have lower poaching rates, because poachers know they will be spotted there, and brings in significant revenue – but events can lead to sudden drops in revenue (as we show in our Conservation Crisis board game and app), so other sources of funding are needed and we must learn not to rely so much on tourism.
3) Donor funding: as economies recover from recessions, there is likely to be a drop in donor funding, such as we have seen with the UK government’s switch from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5% in foreign aid, forcing conservation organisations to identify new sources of revenue or find ways to do more with less money; such situations pose challenges as well as opportunities for innovation, so we are hopeful it will lead to some great new thinking and activity in the sector.
4) Conservation: the pandemic has shown perhaps more than ever before how much poaching and environmental destruction is caused by poverty. Where people do not have jobs and where national parks to not provide benefits to local people, the poverty and resentment created often leads to poaching. Conservation projects will never succeed unless they involve local people and make sure those people – the guardians of our environment – benefit from protecting the environment. Our inspirational hero, John Kahekwa, has been saying that for almost three decades, and his work is proof of the value. More focus on people, as well as animals, will be key in 2021 and beyond.
5) Success: we feel very positive about 2021 and beyond. 2020 was a very tough year, but the aftermath of such events is so often massive innovation and positive social and environmental change. As societies get back on their feet, people will be working on all sorts of new ways to build a better world. There remain huge challenges along the way, but 2020 was a wake-up call for us all. And all that time spent cooped up inside is stored energy waiting to have an impact on the world. We see a brighter future for both people and planet emerging, and we’re proud to be a small part in that process, raising funds for our superb partner charities to go out and keep our wildlife and their habitat safe.
So here’s hoping 2021 will be a better year than 2020, and the start of a decade of positive action for people and planet alike.