As if things in this world can’t get worse than a global pandemic, there is now a threat that has conservationists on edge: a renewed interest in illegal poaching worldwide.
In fact, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has warned that “we’re already seeing a spike in poaching” as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
So far, the WCS reports that three giant ibis – critically endangered species – were killed by poisoning earlier this April in the Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary of Cambodia. Meanwhile, in the latter part of March, more than 100 painted stork chicks were poached in Cambodia’s Prek Toal Ramsar Site. The WCS believes the baby birds were killed so their meat could be either consumed locally or sold through the black market.
In a single deliberate poisoning event, 3 giant ibis, equivalent to 1-2% of the global population, have been…
The sudden resurgence in illegal poaching isn’t just the result of criminals using the global pandemic and social distancing to their advantage – unfortunately, it’s also a result of desperate people trying to make ends meet during a pandemic that’s muddled their normal existence. Because of the pandemic, worldwide economic inequality and poverty is only going to be made worst than what it is, therefore the WCS is fearful that the issue of poaching will end up growing with the coming months or years.
WCS regional director in the Greater Mekong, Colin Poole, explained, “Suddenly rural people have little to turn to but natural resources and we’re already seeing a spike in poaching. The continued commitment of conservationists to local people in rural areas across the region is more important than ever right now, as they have no safety net and are alone on the front line, the first and last line of defense for the forests and wildlife in and around their communities.”
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And it’s not just a problem that is limited to the region of southeast Asia – it’s worldwide. In fact, during the COVID-19 lockdown, parts of Europe have seen poaching linked to the pandemic. Recently in Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, there have been poaching reports. Additionally, WWF-Austria has reported that at least 27 protected birds of prey were illegally killed.
Christina Wolf-Petre, species protection expert from WWF-Austria, released a statement saying, “While public life is severely restricted and the authorities are focused on fighting the pandemic, dozens of protected animals are victims of unscrupulous criminals. This is a real scandal and endangers important nature conservation successes.”
Over in Africa, The New York Times reported that over in the country of Botswana, at least six white rhinos have been poached since the country closed its borders in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. And in South Africa’s North West province, nine more rhinos have been lost to poaching. Worse yet, is that the many conservation and anti-poaching organizations – which are more important than ever at the moment – have been experiencing the struggle of the ongoing pandemic.
Lynne MacTavish, operations manager at Mankwe Wildlife Reserve in South Africa’s North West province, said to The New York Times, “We’re in a situation of zero income, and our expenses are actually going up all the time just trying to fight off the poachers and protect the reserve. To say it’s desperate is an understatement. We’re really in crisis here.”
Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.