< African Wildlife Harder to Protect During Coronavirus
By Bryan Lynn
18 May 2020

A drop in tourism during the coronavirus crisis is making it more difficult for some organizations to protect threatened wildlife in Africa.

Wildlife officials fear poaching activity will rise because the collapse of the travel industry leaves less money for guarding animals.

In Kenya, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy project is home to more than 130 black rhinos. It forms the single largest group of the animals in East and Central Africa.

"We are more alert because maybe more poachers will use this time to come in to poach," said John Tekeles. He is a guard at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. His comments were reported by The Associated Press (AP).

FILE - A black rhino calf, left, and its mother are seen at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia national park near Nanyuki, Kenya, May 22, 2019.
FILE - A black rhino calf, left, and its mother are seen at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia national park near Nanyuki, Kenya, May 22, 2019.

African rhinos have long been under threat from poachers who kill them for their horns. The illegal trade is fueled by the belief, in some cultures, that the horns have medicinal value which has not been proven by science.

The number of black rhinos in Africa has been slowly increasing. But a report in March by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, said it still considered the animals "critically endangered." In part, the organization credits the comeback of the rhinos to effective law enforcement.

However, Ol Pejeta's director, Richard Vigne, said enforcement measures are very costly. He said he spends about $10,000 each year for every rhino to pay for the protection.

"In our case, that comes to close to $2 million a year," Vigne told the AP. "In the time of COVID, when tourism has completely stopped, where most of our revenue comes from tourism...it's a complete disaster." COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The conservancy expects to lose $3 to $4 million this year. Vigne said the loss severely limits the group's ability to protect the rhinos.

Wildlife activists across Africa are now waiting to see how poachers will react to the current situation, and whether more rare wildlife will be killed.

Poaching of African rhinos had been decreasing in recent years, the IUCN reported. The group said there were 892 acts of poaching in 2018, down from a high of 1,349 in 2015.

The IUCN said the population of black rhinos grew at a yearly rate of 2.5 percent between 2012 and 2018. Now, there are more than 5,600 animals. That growth was predicted to continue over the next five years, the environmental group said.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

Words in This Story

tourism n. the business of visiting a place for pleasure

poachv. to catch and kill animals without permission on someone else's land

alert n. quick to see, understand or act in a particular situation

critically adv. in a way that is serious or bad

endangered adj. in danger of being harmed or lost

revenue n. the profits made from a business

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