Cinco de Rhino has always been about celebrating conservation victories for rhinos while raising awareness and funds for their continued protection. This year, in the middle of a global crisis, Cinco de Rhino is a virtual party with an urgent purpose.
In Africa, protection and conservation efforts are often funded by tourism income in reserves. With COVID-19 lockdowns in place leading to a complete halt in tourism, reserves are finding themselves without a substantial amount of income. While many reserves are doing their best to keep team members employed, some reserves are already asking staff to work with reduced pay. Reduced income also means that health and safety equipment to mitigate COVID-19’s spread are often not available to staff.
To help bridge the gap in lost tourism revenue and other COVID-19 impacts, IRF has established the Reserve Relief Fund. All donations for Cinco de Rhino this year will go to this fund which will make grants on a rolling monthly basis to organizations to help pay staff salaries, purchase health and safety equipment, and keep rhino protection units in the field where they are needed.
In South Africa, the communities near reserves are dependent on tourism for the jobs this creates within the reserves, or for opportunities created outside. However, the hard lockdown since March 27, has had dire consequences for the economy, business and job security in South Africa.
Poaching at a national scale in South Africa is down because of the lockdown. Quite honestly, IRF expected the worst, but South Africa’s announcement of a hard lockdown and the way it has been enforced with a police and military presence on the roads has made it risky and difficult for poaching groups to travel. There have been incidents, but by far fewer over the lockdown period than normal and definitely far less than expected. However, the longer the lockdown continues, risks will increase as desperation also rises.
The lockdown has especially affected the poorest of the poor and the small, informal economies within community areas. Hungry and desperate communities along the boundaries may turn to bushmeat poaching.
It is critical for supporters to mobilize during this critical time to fill the gaps being created by the lack of tourism. Traditionally, tourists and guides have also been additional eyes and ears in the field; their presence was a poaching deterrent. Now the rhinos and other wildlife are reliant solely on rangers.
The demand for rhino horn in illegal markets is always a threat to wild rhinos. There are reports of late that Chinese National Health Commission recommended use of bear bile extract as medicine for COVID-19 which may have encouraged wildlife smugglers to seek rhino horn as a mistaken treatment as well.
While the short-term impacts of this pandemic make rhino protection more challenging, the long-term economic impacts could be even more devastating on local communities and rhino populations. The Reserve Relief Fund will help ensure that rhinos remain protected now and throughout the recovery.
All donations for the virtual Cinco de Rhino this year will go to the Reserve Relief Fund to support salaries and health and safety needs for the dedicated men and women who continue to ensure that rhinos and other endangered species will survive. Every dollar donated will make an immediate impact for African reserves and rangers.