COVID-19 and the EPI
The coronavirus pandemic brings great challenges to all of us engaged in the struggle to conserve Africa’s wildlife and improve the livelihoods of the people who live around it. We’re already seeing danger signals from some EPI member countries. This piece from Kenya raises the possibility of a collapse in wildlife economies. When tourism comes to a an abrupt stop the results can be severe; lodges close, companies go bankrupt and jobs disappear. People who are pushed into poverty lose their freedom to chose how to make a living, and wildlife often suffers. The EPI Foundation and the member countries have been working together for years to develop National Elephant Action Plans that build resilient wildlife economies for rural populations. We believe these plans are now more relevant than ever.
And yet this is also a time of great opportunity. In 2017 the Chinese government responded to the concerns of the international community, including EPI countries, by closing down its internal ivory markets. It did this with impressive commitment. The coronavirus pandemic will surely lead to a reassessment in China of other trade in wildlife products and, we hope, similar resolve to clamp down on any illegal activity. This month we’ve also seen encouraging signs fromVietnam that attitudes may be changing there. Are we seeing the emergence of a new international consensus to end the trade that has wrought such damage to wildlife populations in Asia and Africa? If so, the EPI countries- many of which have experienced devastating poaching and campaigned against the ivory trade for decades- have the moral authority and track record to lead this process.
At a more fundamental level, we are all rethinking our relationship with our natural environment. ‘This pandemic is teaching us how much we depend on each other for our health systems, food systems and supply chains. We are all on this planet together.’ So wrote Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Costa Rica’s Minister of the Environment and member of the EPI Leadership Council, in a letter to the Financial Times this month. Mr Rodriguez is asking us to take stock and look at how we can live more sustainable lives. It’s a message echoed by many eminent scientists. This fascinating article explains how the destruction of habitats has created the conditions under which these kind of pandemics occur. Or this, from the UN’s environment chief- ‘Nature is sending us a message’. As the experts warn, we may have got off relatively lightly this time. If we carry on chopping down forests and consuming wildlife, more pathogens could cross from animals to humans. And the next pandemic could be much more lethal.
We know that this is a difficult time for all our EPI member countries. The EPI Foundation stands side by side with them, determined to support them in every way we can. But we are also convinced that as and when we emerge on the other side, our coalition will be more relevant and useful than ever.
We hope all our supporters stay healthy in the weeks ahead.