Rhinos across Africa are being poached at an increasingly high rate amid COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.
With national parks and wildlife reserves currently free of tourists and patrols, poachers are taking advantage of stay-at-home orders. They are killing and injuring rhinos and other endangered species in tourist hotspots and other places that are usually safe due to the normally large influx of tourists.
Poachers hunt rhinos for their horns and bushmeat, which they illegally trade in exchange for money.
Several poaching bosses have instructed their employees to hunt rhinos in parks and other typically protected spaces since COVID-19 restrictions have gone into effect, according to a report from the Wildlife Justice Commission published in April.
In the last few months, six rhinos have been killed by poachers in Botswana and another nine have been poached in South Africa. Kenya has also seen a recent increase in poaching.
As the pandemic halts tourism to Africa, poachers are killing rhinos in travel hot spots now devoid of visitors. In Botswana, at least 6 $rhinos have been poached since the virus shut down tourism there and in the northwest South Africa, at least nine. https://t.co/L7Zh5IvkZlpic.twitter.com/hLRO4aKeaR— WildAid (@WildAid) April 26, 2020
Due to COVID-19 restrictions and the overall lack of tourism revenue, ranger patrols have been significantly reduced. Many rangers have been forced to stay home, while others have taken substantial pay cuts.
The pandemic has also caused a drastic dip in funding for the protection of wildlife reserves and endangered species.
"The COVID-19 lockdown illustrates just how important ecotourism is for the conservation of Africa’s natural heritage," WildAid CEO Peter Knights told HuffPost. "If the lodges are closed, there are more unemployed people, and without tourists on safari or people working in lodges, you have less surveillance."
Rhinos are critically endangered. There are only about 30,000 left in the world, and that number is already quickly decreasing.
With poaching on the rise and no end to the pandemic in sight, "risks will increase as desperation also rises."