Wild dolphins spotted in deserted Venetian canals and elephants meandering lazily through Chinese villages, passing-out blissfully in tea fields.
These are some of the positive stories that we’ve read about during life in lockdown. Stories of animals thriving in a human-free world. Nature, bouncing back. A silver lining to the pandemic, even. After all, when we’re feeling tired, stressed and full of worry, watching a few care-free clips can be just the tonic.
Sadly though, many of the stories simply aren’t real. Reports of the tipsy elephants have since been debunked, while the dolphin footage from Venice, in fact, came from Sardinia. Oops. Have we all fallen victim to dreaded “fake news?”
Natasha Daly, a writer for National Geographic says, “The phenomenon highlights how quickly eye-popping, too-good-to-be-true rumours can spread in times of crisis.” (See full article)
And she’s right. Although lockdown has been good news for some species and the environment, for other animals, the picture is less rosy.
The impact of Covid-19 on wildlife conservation
One of the industries that has been impacted the most in the travel sector is animal tourism. With Covid-19 grinding travel to a halt around the world, countless grassroots projects, workers and communities all over are struggling to hold their heads above water.
Many animal industries, from elephant camps to marine conservation projects and orangutan rehabilitation centres, are dependent on global tourism to survive. Since the pandemic, these industries have plunged into a new kind of calamity. They now face more uncertainty than ever, as restrictions on travel continue to grapple nations around the world, and travellers think twice about the places they’ve been dreaming of visiting.
Elephant welfare and sanctuaries
We’ve seen stories of elephant-riding camps in Chiang Mai, Thailand, claiming to have turned their backs on the cruel practices they once used to “break the spirit” of the elephants they held captive. Instead, there are promises of releasing the animals from their shackles, to a life of freedom in a newly formed “sanctuary.”
But not all organisations have the resource to do this. And there are fears that many elephants around the world – particularly in Thailand, where the elephant tourism industry is rife – will be even worse off. Some will be mistreated, abandoned or even illegally sold for logging. Sadly, desperate times call for desperate measures for those trying to feed their families in a depleted tourist industry.
Not only are some camps facing financial struggles to feed and care for their elephants, but many charitable organisations and aid workers are struggling to raise the funds needed to save abused animals in captivity.
Other destinations across the world have been similarly impacted.
Rainforest and orangutan conservation
The World Economic Forum has reported that Indonesia – home to 10%-15% of all known plants, birds, and mammals on Earth – saw a “64% fall in tourist arrivals year-on-year in March.” And the government warned it could face a loss of “more than $10 billion in tourism revenue this year.”
Last year, our Content Manager, Hannah visited an orangutan rehabilitation project in Indonesia, an initiative organised by BOS Foundation. Since her visit, we couldn’t wait to launch our new trip to Samboja Lestari, as a way of supporting the project and giving our customers the chance to see the wonderful conservation work being carried out.
Since the pandemic hit, many projects like this one in Samboja have been hit hard. With zero volunteers to help keep work moving and no support from tourism while restrictions are in place, its conservation efforts are dangerously at risk.
Kate Heliwell, Volunteer Coordinator for The Great Projects (working alongside BOF Foundation Samboja Lestari) says:
“Since late March ecotourism in all forms has come to a halt at Samboja Lestari and around the world. Only crucial staff are allowed on the premises in accordance with social distancing regulations and to reduce any chance of the virus spreading from humans to animals. This means that a substantial amount of funding and onsite help has temporarily been lost and it is unclear when and how it will resume. I’ve seen first hand how the wildlife tourism industry ‘if done properly’ can really benefit conservation efforts and it’s sad to know that none of that is currently possible. I am proud to say the BOS Foundation are conservationists; always striving to improve and progress in conservation, they never just stand still. However, they are currently extremely limited in how they can progress and this is the sad reality for now.“
If you want to support this project, you can make a donation to the BOS Foundation’s fundraising campaign. Donations will go directly to Indonesia, to pay for food for all the animals.
Threats to communities and wildlife in Africa
While in Africa too, the pandemic threatens those who depend upon wildlife and safari tourism to make ends meet – from local guides to forest communities.
Not only has the travel ban cut off economic supplies to millions of families, living within and surrounding the national parks, but it’s also impacted aid efforts which were set up to protect forest resources and combat poaching. And now there is a growing fear that dwindling tourist support will lead to the exploitation of desperate communities by illegal traders and gangs, forcing wildlife poaching and forest-clearing as a means of income.
Wildlife tourism needs our help
All of this may sound rather doom and gloom. But, while there are many success stories out there, the reality is: wildlife tourism needs our help.
Lately, lots of us will have been re-evaluating how we spend our time on holiday, perhaps with more mindfulness about the wildlife encounters we’ve been dreaming of. Others might be put off completely.
The pandemic has, in many ways, shone a light onto some of the issues that come with animal tourism when it’s not done well, with welfare at the heart. And no, we don’t just mean from the likes of Tiger King.
We’re big believers in making good things happen when we travel. We may be a small, independent company, but we’ve got a passionate team, big ambitions and a loyal, mindful community by our side.
We’ll continue fighting for wildlife conservation
We’ve been on our own responsible journey right from the beginning – 11 years to be precise. We’re proud to work with local supply chains who share our belief in doing travel right. We feel strongly about giving small businesses, communities and conservation projects around the world, the opportunity to enjoy the positive effects that tourism can bring.
We’ve taken a stand for animals, by partnering with and supporting conservation projects around the world. In 2014, we made a pledge to World Animal Protection to turn our backs on elephant riding for good. And we recently partnered with Animondial – a global tourism consultancy, specialising in responsible animal tourism – to provide a toolkit designed to help small businesses make responsible decisions.
We know that animals are a hugely popular part of many travel experiences and that, when done right, wildlife encounters can be so memorable for travellers, as well as educational and vital to conservation too.
When the time is right to travel again, it’s an opportunity for us all – travellers and companies alike – to use our power to bring more compassion to tourism.