With COVID-19 wrecking the economies of superpowers like the US and China, Africa is no exception. The continent of Africa is bestowed with rich biodiversity which attracts millions of tourists every year. But due to the pandemic, the safari industry of Africa is in a freefall.
The countries which are visited more often by the international tourists for their remarkable safari experiences include Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. These contribute more than 12 billion US dollars to the economy, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
The tourism industry is one of the most impacted economic sectors due to lockdowns being imposed all over the world. The magnitude of loss came into light when Safaribookings.com, a website for booking safari tours in Africa, ran its fourth monthly survey. The bookings this year declined by a massive 75%. “We don’t have bookings, and we don’t have money to pay salaries for staff, office rental etc. Things are really bad” says a Kenyan safari vehicle operator. Thousands of the people depending on services related to industry lost the livelihood due to this downturn..
Khimbini Hlongwane, the proprietor of a small tour business in Kruger National Park of South Africa, is devastated as he had invested all his savings to purchase a new minibus for his visitors. “It hasn’t moved since the day we bought it,” he says. Leon Plutsick, who owns a lodge in Manyeleti private game reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park says that he is barely surviving on the remaining meagre reserves. What used to be a lodge packed with tourists, is now replaced by Baboons. A tour guide and father of four, Sipho Nkosi, who earns a decent amount of 550 rand per tour, finds himself and his family in troubled waters. “We’d saved some money. But it's running out, so we’ll start starving” he says.
Not only the local communities but also the prolific wildlife of Africa is bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Tourist funds play a key role in conservation projects. Jackson Looseyia, a conservationist and lodge owner at Maasai Mara says, “In conservation terms, it is a crisis. We have no money coming in whatsoever, and the future is so bleak”.
Many of the families dependent on ecotourism see no option but to turn towards poaching as a means of survival. This further poses a threat to the species. Dickson Kaelo, CEO of Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association says, “Due to the high rates of unemployment, commercial bushmeat has become rampant in some areas. Recently there were even cases of giraffes killed for commercial purposes”. At least six black rhinos, who might face extinction soon, were killed by poachers in Okavango Delta, Botswana, in the month of March. Efforts are being taken to evacuate the remaining rhinos and shift them to safer places.
The Tourism Business Council of South Africa is urging the government to reopen the national parks and sanctuaries for the public, latest by September. However, the South African government states that the tourism industry is not likely to reopen before 2021.
Kenya, Namibia and Rwanda are not open for tourists. Zambia is permitting tourists but with an obligatory two-week quarantine. Tanzania has imposed no such requirements. However, tourists will think twice before going on any international trips as we have not yet won the fight against coronavirus.
All this has left the people associated with the ecotourism sector in Africa in a dark tunnel with seemingly no end at the moment.