The impact of Covid-19 on Conservation

By now, we are all aware of the devastating effects of Covid-19 across the globe. Despite the benefits brought to skies and tourist destinations from the halt in air traffic and reduction of human pressure, the overnight shutdown of wildlife tourism meant the income streams of small conservation organisations such as Imire were cut off almost overnight.

Private conservancies in Zimbabwe (and most National Parks), are nearly 100% reliant on tourism income and donations from visitors to safeguard our flagship species. Without this income, small grassroots organisations who do not have alternative funding streams, have had to make critical decisions about how best to manage with little to no money for salaries, fuel and maintenance. Reduced ground operations, unpaid leave and redundancies are a daily concern when there is massive economic uncertainty and no income forecast for months to come. On average one staff member’s salary supports 6-10 extended family members, so the consequences of job losses have an exponential community impact.

In Zimbabwe, two decades of economic meltdown, rampant inflation, soaring poverty levels and two years of extreme drought have exacerbated the Covid-19 crisis. Poaching always increases during times of economic stress, and with the added financial strain from the lack of tourism, we have seen a rapid rise in poaching attempts at Imire. Both small-scale subsistence poaching, using snares and bush traps, and organised crime syndicate poaching, using deadly automatic weapons and live ammunition, are on the increase.

Black rhino at sunset in Zimbabwe

The need for sustainable travel

We remain hopeful. That travel will resume and that a visit to the wide open plains of Africa will be an appealing option for travellers looking to get away from crowded tourist areas.

Small conservancies such as Imire and many others across Zimbabwe, are essential not only for wildlife, but for the communities that live around the wildlife areas.

Reilly Travers, Imire Conservancy Manager, said “Our mission has always been to ensure that our communities directly benefit from the presence of wildlife. Tourism has enabled us to employ more than 80 members of staff across our conservancy and hospitality teams, and has also enabled us to build classrooms at our local school, construct an on-site Community Education Centre, build nurses accommodation and a maternity ward at our local clinic, set up a community-managed beekeeping programme, provide ongoing educational materials and healthcare supplies, and help the local Mothers Support Group.”

“We are optimistic that travellers will return to Zimbabwe. The absence of travel in people’s lives has provided a new perspective on what responsible travel should be. We know that experiencing wildlife out in the bush gives a new appreciation of the natural world. Wide open horizons allow a break from the stresses of the outside world, and Imire is a place where time moves at a slower pace, and connections are deep-rooted and long-lasting.

“We encourage people to reflect on the need for more sustainable travel. To visit places which support community empowerment, economic development and wildlife conservation. To support conservancies that have small footprints, who offer an all-round experience where not only are you gaining a new perspective, but you are also giving back and seeing the direct benefit that your presence has, both on the wildlife and the people.”

girl and man with elephant

Reilly also said about Imire’s volunteers, “Our volunteers are critical to Imire’s success. Their contributions of time, energy and enthusiasm and varied outlooks and experiences, support our staff physically in their work, but also give them renewed purpose and encouragement.”

“We believe that well thought out volunteering has a huge role to play in the future of sustainable travel. It is an affordable way to experience Africa’s iconic wildlife and in a more immersive and directly impactful way than a traditional safari.”

The Imire story is one of conservation and hope. From the depths of despair during our rhino poaching crisis in 2007, operating throughout Zimbabwe’s tumultuous economic ups and downs and coping during severe droughts, to the joys of five rhino births in the last six years and a continuing wonderful relationship with our communities.

We know that volunteers and visitors will return, and we will be ready to welcome you with renewed passion for the work that we can achieve together.

volunteer and school children, Imire

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Please click for more information about our volunteer programmes and conservation course. We are still taking bookings for late 2020 and 2021, with flexible booking terms and cancellation policies. Please get in touch if you have any questions!

If you are able to donate to Imire and support the work we are doing on the ground, either in the conservancy or in the community, please get in touch with our Donations Team. Any and all contributions are very gratefully received.