Success relies on collective endeavour, says John Scanlon, chair of the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime
Our world is feeling the full brunt of a pandemic that most likely had its origins in wildlife and the there are hundreds of thousands of other viruses in wild animals that could spill over to humans.
A million species are at risk of extinction over coming decades and we are struggling to combat climate change. Illicit wildlife trafficking is exacerbating each of these global challenges.
Perhaps 2020 will be remembered as the year when the penny suddenly dropped for people across every nation that we need to recalibrate our relationship with nature to prevent future pandemics, as well as to protect biodiversity, combat climate change and create decent local jobs.
Covid-19 has induced much suffering and, sadly, many lives have been lost. Nature conservation came perilously close to being another victim of the pandemic. Due to the heroic efforts of so many, it has survived, but only just. It remains on life-support.
Travel and tourism plays a key role in helping to tackle illegal wildlife trade, and Covid-19 has demonstrated the clear connection between wildlife preservation and travel and tourism.
The dramatic and sudden loss of revenue from wildlife tourism in 2020 sent shock waves through the conservation and travel and tourism communities, which depend on a thriving sector.
It decimated jobs and livelihoods, and severely impacted businesses – particularly SMEs which make up the majority of businesses within the sector.
It also led to a decrease in funding for conservation efforts and also made wildlife more vulnerable to poaching and put critical wild habitats at risk.
While international travel and tourism revenues have almost been wiped out due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it remains imperative for business, donors and governments to continue to invest in nature conservation. That is not only for its own sake, but to help avert the next pandemic, mitigate climate change and retain tourism appeal.
Wildlife poses no human health threat, but how we interrelate to it does. Preventing the next pandemic will require profound changes in how we regulate the taking, trade, and consumption of wildlife, how we combat the scourge of wildlife crime, and invest in wild places.
If 2020 was a year of awakening for all of us, then 2021 must be the year of recovery and transformation. Well managed wildlife tourism, which has sustainability at its core, has a central role to play in this recovery, in particular for saving wildlife and wild places and generating jobs.
The travel and tourism sector recognised its role in fighting wildlife crime and protecting habitat, when in April 2018, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) adopted the Buenos Aires Declaration against illegal wildlife trade, which has now attracted over 100 signatories. Covid-19 has given this declaration and its implementation added meaning and momentum.
Success in ending wildlife crime and protecting habitat demands a collective endeavor.
We all have our role to play as corporates, consumers, investors, travelers and citizens. It is not too late to change course, provided we all rise to the challenge, and the travel and tourism sector fully intends to play its role as we build back better from this pandemic.
If we get it right, we can generate jobs, prevent future pandemics, save biodiversity, combat climate change and ensure that the benefits of a country’s wildlife flow to local communities, investors and the governments of source States, and not to transnational, organised criminals.
John Scanlon is chief executive of the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation and chair of the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime
The WTTC is a founding ‘international champion’ of the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime