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Designated protected areas for wildlife – such as national parks – are the world’s principal conservation strategy. But this model to conserve wildlife in Africa is increasingly coming under pressure. Changing climates, volatile economies and political systems, conflicting sentiments around wildlife management practices (like trophy hunting) and unpredictable events, such as pandemics, are just some of the threats that undermine conservation efforts.
Many protected areas didn’t fare well during the pandemic, particularly across Africa. Ailing economies and restricted travel reduced the funding and tourism revenues on which many parks depend. As a result, half of surveyed parks across 19 African countries reported reductions in the protection of endangered species, field patrols and anti-poaching measures.
These impacts bring into question the resilience of protected areas where conservation is funded by donations, state budgets and, in some cases, ecotourism. Additional conservation models are called for.
One such model is wildlife ranching. We carried out a study which examined how wildlife ranches in South Africa responded to the impact of the pandemic. There are different types of wildlife ranches. They generate revenue from wildlife through a variety of activities including ecotourism, trophy and meat hunting, wildlife trade and meat sales. On some of these ranches, livestock shared space with
Some specialised in one or two of these activities, others had a more diverse income portfolio. We found that, on average, wildlife ranches were more financially resilient and better able to adapt to the impact of the pandemic than protected areas. Importantly, ranches with mixed systems of wildlife and livestock coped the best.
We can learn from these wildlife ranches – and their adaptable business models – to build more resilient conservation systems in an increasingly volatile world.
Wildlife ranches as a conservation model
In several southern African countries – including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia – private landholders and communities are involved in conservation through various models which aim to benefit local people and wildlife. One of these is wildlife ranching.