Opinionista Pieter Twine 24 September 2020

Rhino Month: The juxtaposition of conservation and community

At a time of unprecedented global uncertainty and insecurity owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the often-overlooked focus on conservation is still crucial due to the far-reaching economic impacts of sustainable conservation on the environment, animals, and people.

Ecotourism, understood as responsible travel to natural areas that help conserve the environment while sustaining the local people, is a key sector of South Africa’s overall tourism arena. Ecotourism translates to sustainable gains in respect of improving the livelihoods of local communities. That is thanks to the revenue it brings to create jobs, provide education opportunities and improve infrastructure, including better roads, water supply and sanitation.

South Africa’s magnificent flora and fauna, among them the world-famous Big Five, is a major drawcard for tourists. When we do not protect our wildlife, we risk losing that all-important tourist spend. And without it, it is the local communities who will ultimately suffer most. As such, funding that is directed to wildlife conservation is an investment in this asset, which, in turn, drives economic value for people, too.

As we mark the 10th anniversary of World Rhino Month this September, it is appropriate to emphasise why this cause is about so much more than protecting these majestic, endangered creatures. Conservation in South Africa is as much about protecting wildlife as it is about protecting jobs and empowering people. Drawing this connection is crucial because only when we understand the profound impact that conservation has on millions of people can we appreciate why it matters, arguably even more, during Covid-19.

When MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet established the MyPlanet Rhino Fund in April 2011, it garnered 15 supporters and raised R37 in its first month. It is now involved in 150 different rhino-related conservation projects, having paid R15-million towards various causes to date. Of this, we are immensely proud. But that does not mean our job is done. Ongoing collaboration between government, business and, crucially, communities is essential if we are to put a halt to the rampant poaching of rhino on South African land.

Rhino conservation is about so much more than only the wildlife. More broadly, it is about safeguarding South Africa’s global tourism footprint – a footprint that contributes significantly to the national economy and which has a powerful impact on the sustainability of thousands of jobs in the sector.

Our planet’s ecosystems and resources are under immense threat, which calls for impactful collaborative efforts from us all – but starting with communities in any given area. Respected conservationists are increasingly emphasising that global threats to biodiversity must be met with locally driven solutions, where communities are the stewards, the stakeholders and the beneficiaries.

The impact that the various levels of the Covid-19 lockdown have had on the tourism sector in South Africa is well documented. Tourism – which includes wildlife and conservation – is the country’s fourth-largest generator of foreign exchange and, as an industry, employs about 1.5 million people.

Now, however, thanks to the latest announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that borders are to begin reopening to international tourists, we are positive that, in time, the sector will recover fully. Everyone can be part of a focused intervention for conservation by becoming part of the MyPlanet Rhino Fund journey here, downloading the app, or by SMSing “JOIN” to 31231.

Together, we can make a difference. DM/MC

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