Coronavirus is disrupting wildlife conservation work, study says

The findings show the majority of conservationists are affected by the outbreak, with several programmes put on hold

Northern Kenya_2019. (Photo by Ami Vitale)

Wildlife conservation programmes are being severely disrupted by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new global survey.
The study, which was organised by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, polled more than 300 experts working in the field.

The findings show the majority of conservationists are affected by the outbreak, with several programmes put on hold.

The study showed 83 per cent of conservationists conducting critical fieldwork across 85 countries were negatively affected by the outbreak.

Seventy per cent of experts said planned conservation activities were also either cancelled or postponed.

“With an estimated 10,000 species being lost to extinction per year, a rate that is 1,000 times faster than at any other time in history, conservation work in the field is the critical first line of defence against extinction, habitat destruction, deforestation, over-hunting, poaching and pollution,” said Razan Al Mubarak, founding managing director of the fund, which is based in Abu Dhabi.

“By confirming that efforts to prevent biodiversity loss have been significantly harmed during the pandemic, 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 to not just recover but thrive in the long term.”

Among the programmes on hold until at least the spring of 2021 are the release of critically endangered animals such as Madagascan big-headed turtles and Polynesian tree snails.

Field research on migratory birds such as vultures in Uttarakhand, India, and the Sulu bleeding-heart in the Philippines were also postponed, the study said.

About 30 per cent of the experts surveyed said they feared the pandemic would increase threats to species and habitats, including a greater reliance on poaching among communities affected by a drop in tourism.

Many conservationists were also concerned about the inability to monitor and prevent invasive species such as rats and cats from eating eggs or hatchlings.

“The travel and physical distancing restrictions in place mean that critical predator control work cannot be completed as per calendar activities planned months ago,” said Luis Ortiz-Catedral, who is working to protect the critically endangered pink iguana in the Galapagos Islands.

“It may resume in the coming months, but it is unlikely to have the same effect after a multi-month gap.”

In addition, the majority of conservationists said they feared for their financial futures and the economic effects the outbreak will have on the organisations they work for.

In the report, 68 per cent of respondents said their organisation was negatively affected by the pandemic and 57 per cent said the groups they worked for were facing financial difficulties.

Ms Al Mubarak said the results showed conservationists needed more help to carry out their work.

“Governments can provide more support to conservationists who are engaging with local communities in order to reduce economically and socially harmful destruction of nature and biodiversity,” she said.

“This would not necessarily be simply financial, but a societal undertaking that would provide long-term benefits for both humans and threatened species.”

The fund issues grants of up to $25,000 (Dh91,800) to support conservation initiatives around the world.

Since 2009, it has given more than $20 million in funding to at least 2,100 projects, supporting more than 1,300 different species and subspecies.