Charity warns that wildlife conservation is a forgotten sector in the Covid-19 pandemic, putting endangered species at further risk
The impact of Covid-19 on global wildlife has been both positive and negative, but now the lack of funding threatens to undo decades of conservation work.
UK-based wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) warns that wildlife conservation – both within the UK and internationally – is in danger of being forgotten during the Covid-19 pandemic, and that decades of conservation work could be undone through neglect and unintended consequences.
Over the last 40 years PTES has awarded £7.5 million to conservation research, supporting over 200 species in more than 60 countries. PTES and its partners - leading conservation organisations and individuals worldwide - are investigating the most effective conservation actions, giving endangered species across the globe a chance of survival.
But this was before Covid-19. Now, with no almost no new or emergency funding available, international travel bans and border restrictions in place, many conservation projects around the world are either on-hold or are simply firefighting. What’s more, many communities that usually depend on ecotourism now have no income, so are forced to resort to poaching. Wildlife already on the brink of extinction is now at even greater risk of being lost.
Nida Al-Fulaij, Grants Manager at PTES, explains: “Covid-19 has had an unprecedented impact on every aspect of life, and while the toll on human health, global economies and education is catastrophic, we mustn’t forget about the world’s most vulnerable species too. Species such as Asian elephants and giant anteaters, already in trouble before Covid-19, now hang in the balance if we don’t act quickly.”
Increased incidents of illegal poaching and human-elephant conflicts in India
As millions of jobs have been lost through the Covid-19 crisis, in some areas vast swathes of wildlife and habitat are left with fewer feet on the ground to protect them.
In Mayurjharna Elephant Reserve, West Bengal, India, PTES’ partner Samya Basu, working to address the human-elephant conflict, reported the first instance of illegal poaching for ivory ever seen in this southern area of West Bengal. There is now concern that similar incidents could increase to levels seen across other parts of India, further impacting a species already listed as endangered.
Even in India’s lockdown, human-wildlife conflicts persisted, increasing in towns that became unusually quiet. Asian elephants were more regularly exploring human spaces in the Jhargram Forest Division, West Bengal, in search of food and in the case of solitary tusker elephants, to expand their territories, resulting in potentially fatal consequences.
Less traffic resulted in Brazil’s giant anteaters becoming bolder, with devastating effects
PTES is funding Arnaud Desbiez to investigate why vulnerable giant anteaters are killed on Brazil’s roads, in order to create effective mitigation measures. Reduced traffic during the country’s lockdown has seen giant anteaters crossing one of Brazil’s busiest highways more regularly than before, putting them at even greater risk when traffic levels rise again. Arnaud’s worst fears were confirmed when he found a pregnant anteater he’d been tracking, killed by a vehicle; a huge blow for an already endangered species.
Is the spotlight on live animal markets a sign of hope for slow lorises?
In Java, Indonesia, PTES’ Conservation Partner Anna Nekaris’ team at The Little Fireface Project is still busy working to save one of the rarest – and only venomous – primates on earth, slow lorises.
One of the main threats slow lorises face is being taken from their forest habitat and sold illegally as pets at live animal markets. Whilst Anna reports that the pet trade has not diminished as the pandemic spread, with the origin of Covid-19 being linked to such markets in Wuhan, China, the global wildlife trade is now under much greater scrutiny. The Chinese government is already taking steps to tackle this billion-dollar industry, and it’s hoped that this, combined with live animal markets being in the spotlight, means that the future could become brighter for slow lorises and other endangered species affected by this trade.
Forest teams flourish in Madagascar, creating vital homes for lemurs
And there’s good news too. PTES’ partner SEED Madagascar, works to protect unique environments such as Madagascar’s littoral forest. SEED was in the process of replanting green corridors between forest patches - vital habitats for tree-dwelling lemurs, whose populations have become fragmented through habitat loss. When Covid-19 hit, local volunteers and international staff couldn’t travel to the area, so monitoring the growth of thousands of saplings planted between five forest corridors was put on hold. SEED rapidly trained local staff with the leadership skills and practical know-how to use specialist equipment. They are now undertaking botanical, herpetological and lemur surveys, and invertebrate sampling - recording how the species change as the forest corridors mature. Now Madagascar’s lemurs are facing a safer future with local people trained and ready to help protect them.
Cycling around London to help hedgehogs
Closer to home, PTES’ Intern Kate Scott-Gatty, who works alongside Dr Chris Carbone as part of ZSL (Zoological Society of London)’s London HogWatch programme, is investigating the hedgehog distribution across the capital. Despite Covid-19, Kate found new ways of continuing her work while maintaining social distancing during lockdown, by cycling to different areas of London to drop off wildlife cameras on the doorsteps of volunteers’. As she was avoiding all contact with volunteers, the cameras were set up to work straight out of the bag and Kate emailed instructions too. From Twickenham to Teddington and from Beddington Park to Barnes, Kate is gathering important footage on our urban hedgehogs, despite Covid-19.
Nida concludes: “Many species PTES is working to protect – including Chinese pangolins and slow lorises – are threatened by the global wildlife trade, the very trade that’s implicated in transmitting zoonotic diseases such as covid-19. But conservation issues are much broader and just as pressing. As life begins to return to a ‘new normal’, we must ensure that vital conservation teams worldwide are given the resources and help they need to ensure our threatened natural world is not forgotten as we rebuild our future.”
To learn more about PTES and its ongoing conservation work in the UK and overseas, visit www.ptes.org.