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Nature thrived, but wildlife tourism took a hit amid pandemic5 min read

February 10, 2021 4 min read


Nature thrived, but wildlife tourism took a hit amid pandemic5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As part of Unlock-5, which is one of the phases in which different the country started to get back to normalcy amid the pandemic, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries opened their gates once again. They had shut during the lockdown so as to protect visitors and staff from catching coronavirus!

Photo: Dr Ajay Kumar Singh/Shutterstock

While one would think that nature thrived during these months of reduced human activity, the lockdown did also take a toll on the wildlife tourism industry as a whole.

Tourists stay away

The summer months (April and May) are the best months to visit national parks and sanctuaries, but due to the lockdown, tourism came to a standstill. While the tigers and elephants may have breathed a sigh of relief with no humans around to disturb them, the wildlife tourism industry was affected greatly, with tour operators guides and businesses being left without any income.

Owliver’s Obscure Facts

According to a 2018 study by the World Travel & Tourism Council, the total economic contribution of wildlife tourism to global GDP was about $343.6 billion and supporting 21.8 million jobs. 

Even when the country started to open up in October and November, which is when tourists normally go in thousands for a taste of the wild, people stayed away out of fear. Foreign tourists, who account for a majority of the footfall at these places, have stayed away, mostly because tourist visas aren’t being granted, and re-entry into their home country is either not an option, or an elaborate process.

‘Virtual safaris’. Photo: Mari Fouz

With newer strains of the virus also appearing, international tourists have been keeping a safe distance. Thus, Forest Departments started “sofa safaris” or “live virtual safaris”. These live internet sessions gave nature lovers the opportunity to view wildlife movement in their favourite parks from the safety of our homes. Tadoba Tiger Reserve, Kanha Tiger Reserve, ‘Ol Pejeta Conservancy’ in Kenya, Kruger National Park in South Africa are a few of the spots that started to broadcast safaris online.

Local communities living on the fringes of national parks, that are intrinsic to conservation and would receive help from Forest Departments when it comes to basic necessities, have suffered too.

Owliver’s Obscure Facts

The World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that up to 75 million jobs are at immediate risk due to Covid-19, and anticipate a global economic loss of up to $2.1 trillion!

Wildlife crime shot up

A major reason why some amount of human activity is essential to conservation in protected areas is to keep poachers and hunters away. However, in the last few months, limited Forest Department staff could not keep track of such criminal activities.

With people locked indoors and fewer eyes tracking the animals, national parks and sanctuaries became open to poachers.

Karnataka Forest Department officials at work amid the lockdown. Photo: Mongabay India

A recent report by TRAFFIC, a leading wildlife trade monitoring programme under WWF India network, revealed that poaching for wild meat consumption during the lockdown has been the highest. Reported cases jumped from 22% pre-lockdown, to 44% during the lockdown!

The report also highlighted how there was a marked increase in poaching of small mammals – hares, porcupines, pangolins, giant squirrels, civets, monkeys and smaller wild cats. These crimes amount to 17% to 25% between the pre-and lockdown periods. 

Locals who lost their jobs during the lockdown, especially migrant labourers who were forced to return to their hometowns from the big cities, may have been tempted to seek income from chopping trees or trading bushmeat, say experts.  

The way ahead

While Mother Nature surely healed with pollution levels and human activity reducing during the lockdown, conservation and tourism-related businesses suffered. So how can these concerns be addressed and worked on? Experts say there is a need to rethink wildlife tourism.

One model that seems to be working is the one adopted by Periyar National Park in Kerala. Local people have been employed in various aspects of park management, and walking tours in 10 designated areas have been started rather than vehicle safaris. This allows for social distancing, as well as better experiences. The employment of locals, working as guides and tour operators, by forest departments can also assure temporary livelihoods and more eyes to watch over precious wildlife.

Walking tour at Periyar National Park.
Photo: keralatourism.org

Experts also believe, and the proof is already out there, that the wildlife tourism industry will bounce back, bringing business back to normal soon enough. After being cooped up at home for months, wildlife buffs are bound to go back the forests once more.

In an ecosystem where conservation and tourism go hand-in-hand, we hope the industry bounces back, but in a more well-thought out, sustainable way.

Think with Owliver

What are some solutions you can think of to reverse the impact of Covid-19 and future pandemics on wildlife tourism? Think, discuss, and let us know in the comments!

Sources: The Hindu, Mint Lounge, Conde Nast Traveller, The Wire, Down to Earth