Covid-19 Pandemic Has Already Caused A Spike In Poaching Across The World

Stock image of an elephant skull laying on the dusty ground. Michael Wick/Shutterstock

As the specter of Covid-19 continues to preoccupy the planet, conservationists fear there could be a resurgence of illegal poaching across the world. 

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has warned that “we're already seeing a spike in poaching” in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The WCS notes that three giant ibis – a critically endangered species – were poisoned in the Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary of Cambodia in early April 2020, while over 100 painted stork chicks were poached in late March at Cambodia’s Prek Toal Ramsar Site. It’s thought the birds were killed for their meat, which would have been consumed locally or sold on the black market. 

The recent uptick of poaching is not always the result of criminals taking advantage of an unfortunate situation; sometimes people are forced to make ends meet as the spread of Covid-19 continues to disrupt their normal livelihood. With the outbreak only set to deepen economic inequality and poverty worldwide, WCS fear that the problem of poaching could grow over the coming months and years.

“Suddenly rural people have little to turn to but natural resources and we're already seeing a spike in poaching,” Colin Poole, WCS regional director in the Greater Mekong, said in a statement. "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."

A mixture of dead birds and poison recovered at Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia. Credit: WCS 

It isn’t just the tropics of southeast Asia that are feeling the sting. Europe has also seen cases of poachings thought to be linked to the Covid-19 lockdown. WWF-Austria has reported at least 27 protected birds of prey were illegally killed in Austria recently and another three in neighboring Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. 

“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,” Christina Wolf-Petre, species protection expert, WWF-Austria, said in a statement.

Over in Africa, The New York Times reports that at least six white rhinos have been poached in Botswana since the country closed its borders to stop the spread of Covid-19 and a further nine rhinos have been poached in South Africa’s North West province. To add further salt to the wound, many conservation and anti-poaching organizations – which are perhaps needed now more than ever – say they are also suffering under the weight of the ongoing pandemic.

“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,” Lynne MacTavish, operations manager at Mankwe Wildlife Reserve in South Africa’s North West province, told The New York Times“To say it’s desperate is an understatement. We’re really in crisis here.”

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