THE Covid-19 pandemic has severely crippled wildlife conservation initiatives which depend on tourism.
This has been largely a result of cancellation or postponement of trips by tourists thus disrupting the wildlife budgets and making it difficult for conservation to operate.
In 2015, Zimbabwe takes in US$24.8 million worth of direct hunting revenues compared to US$1.5 million in 2020, a deficit of US$23.3 million in five years.
Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ) president Emanuel Fundira said the Covid-19 pandemic had been brutal on the sector, already reeling from other challenges.
“This pandemic, unfortunately, came at a time when Zimbabwe has been in the throes of a debilitating drought and still not fully recovered from the effects of Cyclone Idai in 2019 and, worse still, we continue to face a rapid and more emboldened anti-hunting lobby and retrogressive legislation from major source markets, in particular the United States of America and the United Kingdom,” Fundira said.
“Covid-19 adds more pain to a very bad situation and is punctuated by widespread cancellation recorded daily nationwide. Flights to Zimbabwe are still severely restricted with the United States of America, Europe and South America still under the grip of a second wave of this terrible pandemic.”
Cancellations for the year 2020 were close to 95% of the hunts booked for 2020.
“The foregoing does not bode well with our conservation efforts, in particular anti-poaching programmes which are now grossly under-resourced and require urgent funding.
“Notwithstanding the above and in order to militate against this dire situation, as SOAZ we continued to advise members to persuade international clients to postpone bookings to a future date including 2021 and beyond,” Fundira said.
He added that his association is lobbying the government to ensure that the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) and other enabling departments are fully funded.
SOAZ, in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) and ZimParks, has also lobbied the government to ensure the hunting sector is considered for forex liquidation exemption (already granted), tax relief, including moratorium on other statutory fees, extension of leases and deferment of levies in order to pre-empt business closures in the face of challenges.
Tourism industry is potentially Zimbabwe’s fastest-growing sector, providing 6.1% to Gross Domestic Product and employing about 90 000 people.The sector also creates countless business opportunities.