Until recently, the months of lockdown have seemed to benefit environmental efforts, what with the sea turtles thriving with fewer humans on the beaches and the lions making themselves at home on the roads of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. But according to one new survey, critical conservation activities have also been “severely disrupted” during the pandemic, from field work in India and the Galápagos, to seasonal wildlife releases in Madagascar and Tahiti.

In April and May of 2020, The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund surveyed a selection of its recent grantees – more than 400 conservationists in 90-plus countries – about how COVID-19 had impacted their efforts, and an overwhelming 83 percent of respondents said that it had indeed affected their fieldwork, with 70% noting critical work that had been canceled or postponed.

Galapagos pink land iguana © Philip Cope.png
The Galapagos Land Iguana Project's efforts to protect the critically endangered pink iguana lizard have been set back by the pandemic © Philip Cope

“Globally, species and their habitats are not better off due to the pandemic,” the report reads.”The conservation sector must ensure that governments are not soothed into inaction by feelgood reports of wildlife’s return to urban settings… Conservation efforts [should] be funded not only at the level that they were at before the pandemic, but at an even higher amount that reflects the severity of the unprecedented threats to biodiversity.”

Many respondents reported that dwindling revenue streams from affiliates like zoos and aquariums, logistical issues like border closures, and the sudden halt of eco-tourism have been particularly problematic. In northern Bolivia, for example, a reserve for the critically endangered blue-throated macaw is on shaky ground financially, and its operator, Tjalle Boorsma, is afraid the trouble is just starting. 

“This income is vital for the sustainability of the program, and we are not sure if we will cover this loss through other funding sources since small grants tend not to come through during times of crisis,” Boorsma said in a statement. “We are concerned this is just the beginning of a long-term economic crisis that will affect conservation badly.”

Adult rere in the wild
Survey respondents reported that a range of critical projects had been delayed until at least spring 2021, including the release of endangered big-headed turtles in Madagascar © J. Velosoa, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Per a press release, some 30% of the survey’s respondents also worried that the pandemic would “increase threats to the species and habitats, including increased poaching due to reduced presence of law enforcement and tourists and greater reliance on hunting by local communities due to the economic impact on livelihoods,” while the unchecked presence of invasive species and predators was listed as a concern as well. 

“The travel and physical distancing restrictions in place mean that critical predator control work cannot be completed as per calendar activities planned months ago,” Luis Ortiz-Catedral, a conservationist working to protect the critically endangered pink iguana lizard in the Galapagos, said in a statement. “It may resume in the coming months, but it is unlikely to have the same effect after a multi-month gap.”

For the MBZ Fund’s founding managing director, the survey’s results paint a strong picture. “By confirming that efforts to prevent biodiversity loss have been significantly harmed during the pandemic,” Razan Al Mubarak said in a statement, “the survey makes clear that the conservation community must come together to urge for a ‘nature recovery plan’ where conservation initiatives are given the necessary financial stimulus, not just to recover but to thrive in the long term.” 

For more information, visit speciesconservation.org

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