The world’s national parks have suffered tremendously from the loss of income due to COVID-19. Iconic places such as Yellowstone, the Serengeti, Kruger or the Great Barrier Reef are either fully, or partially closed, or otherwise devoid of their usual visitors. Costa Rica has lost 30 percent of its revenue for conservation areas and an estimated 100,000 jobs.
Conservation areas, strongly dependent on tourism, now have to find different ways to cope. This is especially true for the thousands of rangers and local communities who work to safeguard the last pandas, rhinos, jaguars, and other endangered species. They are also an important source of revenue. Recent analysis showed that if the target of covering 30 percent of the planet with our protected area system would be met, this could generate between US$64-454 billion in additional revenue by 2050, while the economic loss avoided due to climate change, soil loss and coastal storm surge damage that would occur if this would have been used for other purpose would be between US$170–534 billion per year.
Investments in nature can also help prevent future pandemics, as these are strongly linked to the loss of natural areas, increasing the chance of zoonotic viruses to jump to new hosts. Spending of about US$260 billion over 10 years would substantially reduce the risks of another pandemic on the scale of the coronavirus outbreak, researchers estimate, which is just 2 percent of the projected US$11.5 trillionn costs of COVID-19 to the world economy. Spending on wildlife and forest protection would be almost cancelled out by gains in carbon sequestration from the prevented loss of trees and other biomass.
UNDP, through its Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN), has launched a campaign called ‘Keep Conservation Heroes in their Jobs’ to support local communities and rangers who have lost their income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNDP-BIOFIN launched a campaign to support these frontliners, raising additional income for them to continue biological monitoring, enforcement and awareness raising. This will enable them to have a basic income to provide for their families and pay for health-related bills.
The first campaign was launched in the Philippines, supporting the conservation of a little known dwarf buffalo called the Tamaraw. There are just 480 left, which makes it officially critically endangered, the final step for a species before becoming extinct. They live only on an single island called Mindoro. In a distant past, it is thought they also roamed the main island of Luzon, but now the Tamaraws have retreated to a mountain range called Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park. They still survive due to the exemplary efforts of local rangers and wardens protecting the last herds from poaching, hunting and the conversion of their natural habitat into other types of land use, like agriculture. The Tamaraw population has somewhat recovered in recent years after the park was established, while it is still one of the most endangered species in the world.
The rangers are now themselves under threat with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. As with everywhere else in the world, tourism has come to a standstill, the park has closed down and their incomes have all but dried up. Fernando Salonga, a Mangyan ranger says, “I need to continue my work as a Tamaraw ranger otherwise, hunters will penetrate their domain. As a Taw-buid, we have lived with the Tamaraws all our lives in Mounts Iglit-Baco so I will continue to do my job. To the kind-hearted who have helped and who continue to help us, rangers, may you be blessed. The gifts we receive during this critical period mean a lot to us.”
So far more than 60 contributors already responded to this call for help and donated US$9,800, almost half of the required amount. The team is now continuing to mobilize further funding with the help of a coalition of national partners, including Congresswoman Josephine Sato, who was the first person to contribute, the Ministry of Environment (DENR) and several others who support this noble cause. Another US$14,000 is needed to support all the rangers and wardens.
Anyone can support this cause by donating here or sharing about this campaign on social media.
A number of other crowdfunding campaigns will be run during the coming months: supporting a zoo in Georgia, providing cash for work for boat operators in Thailand, promoting reforestation in Costa Rica, and helping to keep the unique nature of the Galapagos intact in Ecuador.
“Crowdfunding is not just about raising funds, it is about mobilizing a community to support a common cause, raising awareness and motivating local communities,” says Marina Petrovic from UNDP’s AltFinLab, who is a core partner and advisor to the campaign.
Onno van den Heuvel is a Global Manager, UNDP's Biodiversity Finance Initative