Investing in wildlife protection can prevent pandemics like COVID-19

May 4, 2020

Rangers of Alatai National Park on duty. Photo: Sam Barataliev

In her blog, Midori Paxton, Head of Ecosystems and Biodiversity at UNDP debates over wildlife protection and investments in communities of touristic areas as a way of preventing future pandemics.

Wildlife tourism

Travel and tourism accounts for 103 % of global GDP, which makes the sector larger than agriculture. In 2019 alone, it created one in four new jobs. Wildlife tourism supported 21.8 million jobs across the world, or 6.8 % of total travel and tourism jobs. 

Tourism has been central to thousands of conservation projects that have generated jobs and income, empowering rural women and men. It has become a key argument in the “conserve or exploit” debate.

75 million jobs at risk due COVID-19

COVID-19; lockdowns, travel paralysis and the end of an economic lifeline for hundreds of millions. The estimated impact on travel and tourism is staggering. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that up to 75 million jobs are at immediate risk and anticipates an economic loss of up to US$2.1 trillion. The recovery time after disease outbreaks has in the past averaged around 19.4 months—everything doesn’t return to normal the day after the lockdown is lifted.

Increased poaching during pandemic

COVID-19 is a human health crisis and is also a colossal and unprecedented assault on human behavioural norms, movement, the tourism industry and all the conservation efforts that depend on it. There have been reports from around the world of increased poaching by communities that have lost their jobs and livelihoods. This once again raises the spectre of wildlife to human pathogen infection and future zoonotic pandemics such as COVID-19, which are transmitted from wildlife to humans.

There has been a growing debate on banning of wildlife trade to prevent future pandemics. Governments and agencies are discussing COVID-19 recovery and how countries can rebuild their economies, and redirect recovery towards establishing a sustainable and just world in the Decade of Action for Sustainable Development Goals.  

Given its immense contribution to poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation, the nature and wildlife-based tourism sector must be viewed as a large corporation employing tens of millions of people, many of them vulnerable, and living in rural areas. This pandemic is affecting directly and seriously at least 100 million people who depend on the wildlife economy, including informal suppliers to the economy and their families. Serious support is required for this sector, and not just for airlines, large farms and corporations.  

Investing in communities that protect nature

The World Economic Forum has ranked nature loss as one of the top global risks. COVID-19 has shown us why. Nature loss and wildlife consumption are the root cause of the emergence of zoonotic infectious diseases, such as coronavirus, Ebola and HIV/AIDS.

Now there are even more pressing reasons to invest in communities that protect nature through wildlife tourism and conservation. COVID-19 recovery packages must include this investment. Nature underpins people’s survival, wellbeing and sustainable development. Intact nature gives us air, water and food and serves as a “natural vaccine” to reduce the frequency and intensity of future outbreaks of zoonotic pandemics. This will save tens of trillions of dollars in coming decades and avoid misery for billions of people. Doesn’t it sound like a no brainer?

Original text is here