Conservation sustainability is in jeopardy as operations are forced to downsize, poaching is rising and revenue from tourism is at zero.

“The next few weeks would have included the National Arts Festival, school holidays and the Easter holidays, which would have drawn large numbers of tourists. This is a crucial part of the year that funds three months of our operations. Quite simply, it has all been lost,” reads a plea for assistance from Cango Wildlife Ranch in Oudtshoorn, Western Cape.

The ranch, which is home to the Cheetah Preservation Foundation, is struggling to find the funds to support the animals, employees and surrounding community. “As one of the largest employers in the region, our decisions and endeavours have always benefited the local community and tourism industry.”

Another cheetah sanctuary, Ashia, in Paarl, is fortunate to have funds to remain operational but admits that the impact of the lockdown might mean downsizing its conservation efforts. “We will continue with our work, however we may cut down on some of the very expensive rescue missions and focus on our wilding and release programme,” said Founder of Ashia, Chantal Rischard.

She added that the sanctuary had received a permit to operate as an essential service through the lockdown period, and was keeping on essential staff in rotational shifts. “All staff deemed non-essential in terms of the animals are at home and being paid.”

Although Ashia can support itself operationally, this situation may change as it is not expecting to make profit from tourism for the next year and a half after the travel bans are lifted.

Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, the Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit has encountered an increased number of snares in its patrol area, according to Unit Head, Mark Brightman. “This is understandable, considering the economic situation. While we can only hope the lockdown does not continue for long, we need to rise to the challenge to keep our wildlife safe.”

Brightman added that the lower income levels caused by the lockdown had increased the risk of elephant poaching.