It’s a known fact that the pandemic affects the economy pretty bad. Us humans may be able to recover quite fast, but animals that depend on the economy most likely don’t.
To date, more than 90% of safari tour operators have reported losing 75% or more of their annual business because of the novel coronavirus. The industry was booming just six months earlier, and now its plummeting loss is devastating.
Lockdowns and quarantines have put a halt to safaris because customers weren’t making new reservations and scheduled safaris were constantly canceled. It’s not just the tourists affected by the safari industry’s halt, of course. I’m not talking about the animals yet; I meant the locals.
Jarryd du Preez, a safari ranger at South Africa’s Phinda Private Game Reserve for tour company &Beyond, said that lodge and safari company employees across Africa (most of whom are locals from rural communities) are suffering, which means their family and friends are struggling, too.
“They’re supporting themselves, they’re supporting their parents, they’re supporting their sister’s kids, they’re supporting their other sister’s kids,” said du Preez.
“There’s a rule of thumb in Africa that if you’re able to support one person in the community financially, ten people are benefitting, because that’s just how they are culturally. [About] 80 percent of the jobs and the income of these communities comes from reserves,” said the safari ranger.
Conservation efforts need income
The majority of safari lodges and tour companies reinvest their income into conservation, like vaccinating cheetahs and dehorning rhinos so poachers won’t target them.
And now, there’s basically no one paying for the tours, and the efforts have virtually stopped. Poaching has seeped into tourist hot spots throughout the continent, like northwest South Africa and rhino-heavy regions in Botswana.
But reserves and conservations are losing money in significant amount. For example, the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre uses its revenue (only about $30,000 in 2018) to care for and feed the animals. Now, this organization is facing a shortfall of $50,000.
Switching to virtual media
Safari companies need to continue conservation efforts and they need money for that. Since everything can be done via internet now, they’ve switched to virtual experiences as well, like a recorded safari with a live host or riding along in real-time on social media.
&Beyond has begun to charge a fee for some of its virtual programs, generating $250 per experience per person, which is immediately put toward conservation needs and helping the local communities get food and personal protection equipment for the virus.
Singita, a conservation-focused game lodge company, hopes that these virtual experiences will inspire people to support their nonprofit conservation partners.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is [putting] conservation under enormous pressure. If tourism collapses, the ripple effect could threaten to wipe out decades of proactive conservation work on the continent. If ecotourism stops funding the conservation work of nonprofit partners, the likelihood of illegal hunting and poaching increases,” said Singita’s chief marketing officer Lindy Rousseau.
Du Preez believes that the reach of virtual safaris will lead to a positive environmental mindset that will help in the long-term.
“One of the things that’s really fantastic about these virtual offerings is that we are able to engage with people who could never afford to come to Africa, who could never afford to go on safari,” said Du Preez.
“But every single person out there can make a difference to wildlife and conservation. And I do believe that these virtual safaris, without a doubt, have made people more conscious about the environments around them,” he went on.
Where to see the tours (and help meanwhile)
I’ve said this frequently; the nice thing about virtual tours are, even though we can’t experience them fully, we don’t have to pay as much as going there in person. Though we can’t be in the safari tours, we can still do that while helping with the conservation efforts. Here are the places:
The company has 29 lodges and two reserves throughout 13 African countries, including Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zanzibar. And since we can’t go there now, &Beyond Connect allows guests to book virtual safaris in the Phinda and Ngala Private Game Reserves with rangers.
We can also follow live daily game drives on Instagram (twice a day) and watch regularly scheduled television programs about safari destinations and conservation.
In the livestreamed game drives, we can see everything from cougars to elephants. Viewers can interact with the guides by asking questions via comments, and we can even ask them to turn the vehicle a specific way to look at something a bit longer.
If you want a private safari experience, there’s a fee that range from $200 to $250. Here, guests can chat directly with the guides and get a deeper interpretive look into what appeared during the game drive.
To start, go to &Beyond’s website, YouTube and social media from 6:30 AM to 10:30 AM CAT or 12:30 AM to 4:30 AM EST (sunrise dependent) and 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM CAT or 9 AM to 12 PM EST (sunset dependent).
Ross Couper, photographer and safari guide, is the one that leads Singita’s live virtual game. This company was one of the earliest adopters of virtual game drives, and saw engagement in the livestreams increase by more than 400% just days after airing the first one the week last March.
We can interact with Couper through Instagram, watch the livestreams, and see lions, rhinos, baby elephants, and more. All for free.
So how do we help Singita monetarily? We can make a donation to Singita’s Eastern Black Rhino Reestablishment Project, which aims to boost the population of critically endangered black rhino in the Serengeti.
To support Singita, follow them on Instagram and turn on the “notify me” setting to receive push notifications whenever Singita goes live with a game drive.
Tswalu Kalahari is the largest privately owned reserve in South Africa at 1036 square kilometers (400 square miles). It’s partnering with WildEarth to offer live game drives.
Called EcoLive, the livestreams can be watched twice daily at sunrise and sunset local time on Tswalu’s website and social channels. Viewers have watched a leopard and its cubs, a pair of Southern pale chanting goshawks, giraffes, and more.
Like all companies/reserves mentioned, the drives are interactive. We can ask questions and they will be answered live. If you want to be involved in wildlife conservation, simply head to the Tswalu Foundation’s website.
Sunrise safaris happen between 6:30 AM to 9:30 AM CAT, 7:30 AM to 10:30 AM EAT and 12:30 AM to 3:30 AM EST.