Mobilising key actors to make African conservation more resilient post-COVID

Riccardo Niels Mayer / AdobeStock
18 June 2020

The weaknesses of a system exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic:
The Covid-19 pandemic has created seemingly limitless shocks and hitherto inconceivable disruptions to how society works: the near-total suspension of global travel is one of these. Where global tourism revenues have been helping simultaneously to deliver biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods, the pandemic has dramatically altered the trajectory of some national and many local economies. 

“Communities in Africa face a defining moment. They work hard but are hardly noticed. Although they have kept the conservation world alive, now that disaster has struck they are all but invisible, and a major source of their income - wildlife tourism - has evaporated. Many are destitute, and may have little alternative but to turn to unsustainable and destructive extraction of wild resources to survive,” says Maxwell Gomera from the United Nations Environment Programme. 

Nature conservation in sub-Saharan Africa overly dependent on tourism:  
When tourism stops, so too do the benefits of conservation. Coexisting with wildlife has significant costs (think ‘human-wildlife conflict’) and the erosion of direct financial incentives arising from the business of wildlife tourism will often sharply tip the balance away from conservation. 

Forging paths to resilience for nature and people:  
On 20 May 2020, the Luc Hoffmann Institute virtually convened more than 75 participants, mostly from Africa, across different sectors, geographies and disciplines, to discuss a collaborative response to the COVID-19 impacts on communities and wildlife. 

“While there are many initiatives to raise money for wildlife areas, there has been less focus on supporting rural community stakeholders who are the custodians of the landscape and the wildlife on which this tourism depends. We think that a collaborative platform can address this shortcoming while also amplifying existing fundraising approaches,” suggested Luc Hoffmann Institute Director Jon Hutton. 

Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO of the African Leadership Group, asked “How can we build long-term business models? How do we think about diversified revenue streams that go beyond tourism and that are not dependent on donors? So that we can really think differently and show that when there is another crisis we have diversified revenue streams that can allow us to sustain our communities and the wildlife that they live with today.” 

During the meeting, a vision was set forth that would bring to bear an investment of at least USD one billion to support a three-step approach:

  1. deploying emergency relief funds to support local communities, civil society, and small-scale enterprises as compensation for lost jobs and revenues; 
  2. developing a 24-month stimulus package to support the physical and social infrastructure that makes wildlife tourism possible so that it can quickly resume once the pandemic is alleviated;
  3. sourcing promising longer-term measures to improve the resilience of African conservation strategies.

“We don’t want all the support to go to the hotels and the tourism operators, and forget the communities that are the stewards of this,” stressed Alice Ruhweza, Africa Region Director at WWF, “So I see an important role for the platform, bringing a collective voice to talk about these issues and to advocate better for nature - and nature beyond tourism - and to share knowledge with everyone outside of [the conservation] sector.” 

“We need new ways of thinking!” exhorted Gomera. “Rural African communities face an endless stream of obstacles to doing business. They are finding it difficult to build representative, community-based enterprises to deliver commercial outcomes. It is time to genuinely empower them to play a role in the development of wildlife economies, and that includes giving them rights to wildlife and resources, and greater equity and stake in related businesses. Saving wildlife is a common goal, but the cost of doing so cannot be borne by communities alone. We all have a responsibility and must commit to their cause.” 

Watch the video highlights from the 20 May 2020 convening:

Read more about the collaborative response here and visit our web page about the initiative for more information. If you would like to contribute to the further development of the response, please contact Jon Hutton, Director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute at

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