The coronavirus may damage nature for years to come

Having worked in the Third World (specifically sub-Saharan Africa) for many years, I’ve been expecting an uptick in human predation on the environment, due to many people being thrown out of work by the coronavirus pandemic and becoming desperate to survive.  It looks like that’s already happening worldwide.  The BBC reports:

You might be forgiven for thinking that the global lockdown measures keeping us all at home can only have been good for the environment … But in the world’s tropical forest regions, it’s another story. Environmental agencies have reported an uptick in deforestation during lockdowns, as well as increases in poaching, animal trafficking and illegal mining worldwide. The trends are alarming, environmental experts say, and could be hard to reverse.

“This narrative of nature having been given a break during Covid, it’s not entirely accurate. It’s accurate in cities and peri-urban areas,” says Sebastian Troeng, executive vice-president of Conservation International. “But unfortunately in the rural areas, the situation is almost the inverse.”

. . .

Brazil and Colombia have seen an uptick in illegal logging and mining; the Philippines has also reported illegal logging and wildlife trafficking; Kenya has reported increased bushmeat and ivory poaching, as well as increases in charcoal production, which has been illegal since 2018; Cambodia has seen an increase in poaching, illegal logging and mining; and similar reports have come from Venezuela and Madagascar.
Concerns have also been raised in Malaysia and Indonesia, which have the highest deforestation rates in South-east Asia, while in Ecuador, indigenous and afro-descendent communities have reported increased illegal mining in the Choco and Amazon rainforests.

There are two main factors that could be driving these trends, says Troeng. The first is criminal groups and opportunists expanding their activities, taking advantage of lockdown and diminished forest monitoring and government presence. The second is that people living in these rural areas are facing increased economic pressures and are forced to rely more heavily on nature for food and income. In some cases, such as Madagascar and Cambodia, there has been a large urban-rural migration as people lose their jobs in the cities or return home to be with their families during quarantine, which has put extra pressure on local environments.

“What worries me is that we’re seeing these emerging trends, and they’re not going to be reversed when Covid measures are lifted because they’re related to economic factors. So my anticipation is that we’re going to have to deal with this for potentially months and years,” says Troeng.

There’s more at the link.

In my old African stamping-grounds, this is particularly evident.  When so many people are surviving on the ragged edge of starvation, any added burden like the coronavirus pandemic will drive those barely “making it”, now deprived of what little opportunity they had, to turn to anything available – even if that means destroying nature around them.  It’s that, or die, as far as they’re concerned.  The BBC again:

It isn’t just for food or money, either.  Animals that compete with humans for scarce resources will be regarded as a threat, and eliminated on the simple basis of economic competition.  Headlines from Botswana this week bear that out.

Wildlife authorities in Botswana, the country with the world’s biggest elephant population, are seeking an explanation for the death of 56 of the animals in the north west of the country.

Over the past week 12 carcasses were found, adding to the 44 found in a week in March, the environment ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. Tusks hadn’t been removed from the elephants, indicating that they were not the victims of poachers, the department said.

. . .

Elephants have become a political issue in the southern African nation with President Mokgweetsi Masisi last year lifting a hunting ban and saying more needed to be done to stop the 135,000 elephants in the country from damaging crops and occasionally trampling villagers.

Again, more at the link.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

I know that part of the world.  The only income – I repeat, the only income – in the area comes from tourism to the Okavango Delta, one of the greatest game reserves in the world.  It’s an almost unbelievably beautiful place, one that I hope to visit again before I die . . . but the people living there must compete with wildlife to survive.  As long as they derive income from tourists, that’s not a problem.  Take away the tourists (as has happened over the past couple of months), and it’s a different story.  I’m willing to bet that those 56 elephants were probably poisoned, just as poachers in Zimbabwe have used cyanide to poison elephants in nature reserves and steal their tusks.  If it’s a question of “we eat our crops, or the elephants eat our crops”, the elephants will go to the wall.

Ecological and environmental sensitivity is basically a rich person’s prerogative.  Those living on the margins are just trying to stay alive, and they’ll do whatever it takes – even if that means destroying the world they live in.  As far as they’re concerned, they’re living for today.  Tomorrow?  If they live long enough to see tomorrow, they’ll worry about it then.

That’s already been a death sentence for ecologically sensitive areas and endangered animal (and human) populations all over the world.  It’s likely to get worse, more’s the pity, because the richer First World is preoccupied right now with economic survival and regrowth.  It doesn’t have money to spare to help with Third World problems.



  1. One issue in the modern West is the "reintroduction" of the Grey Wolf to the "Wilderness" areas. The reason the wolves need to be "reintroduced" is that previous generations of farmers and ranchers did not appreciate haveing apex predators taking the tasty critters that they had spent money and time raising to a salable age, The result was effectively eliminating the wolves. Even today if farmers and ranchers discover that wolves are munching on their livestock many are likely to implement a shoot, shovel, and shut up solution. The paperwork to remove a "problem wolf" takes too much time and effort. H. Sapiens never have been willing to abide animals that competes with us for food or territory, nor do we accept predators in our midst that threaten us or our families. Only a rich and technologically advanced society can afford the luxury of saving the "noble creatures," subsistence societies cannot.

  2. Great points. We may lose the rhinos and a large portion of the elephants. I would ask how we got here but it seems fairly obvious. Keep up the good work Peter.

  3. As marginal farmers in the third world no longer have the money to buy fertilizer, they will go back to slash and burn deforestation.

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