|But that’s virtually impossible now. The first problem, simply getting there. Not only do travelers not want to fly, but the governments of Tanzania and Kenya have barred visitors from countries where COVID-19 is found – virtually everywhere tourists originate.
Sadly, as everywhere, there are combined health and economic fears. Dozens of cases have been reported so far in Kenya and Tanzania, but with scant testing there certainly are many more.
In Tanzania, where it’s also an election year, there are temporary closures of schools, restrictions on public gatherings, and now self-isolation. Though there is no ban on gatherings in mosques and churches.
Travel to East Africa has come to a standstill. Lodges, camps, and hotels are sitting empty. There are no new bookings. For Africa in general, the World Travel and Tourism Council estimates 50 million jobs could be lost.
A report we received from our source in the Tanzanian tourism industry said, “We are in a total meltdown, the tourism sector is mostly dead… there is no infrastructure for testing and treatment here. Many people and businesses will not survive this, bankruptcies and massive layoffs are around the corner…”
Tourism and conservation depend upon each other
Some observers see a few silver linings for our planet: a reduction in carbon emissions, cleaner air, and reduced impacts from overtourism.
Indeed, tourism does have impacts on the Serengeti: land degradation by vehicles that drive off-road, stress on wildlife, demands on water and other resources, introduction of invasive plants, and barriers to wildlife movement. In Masai Mara, there has been overcrowding and overbuilding. The virus may thin this out.
But the fact is, tourism justifies the protection of wildlife and wild places. In Tanzania, for instance, tourism provides over a million jobs and $4.7 billion in revenue. Without such benefits, most protected wildlife areas in East Africa would inevitably devolve into pasture and farmland.
Tourism may be on hold, but human-wildlife conflict continues around the margins of the Serengeti. Just recently, 14 lions strayed out of the park into surrounding villages killing cattle and goats. They were captured for relocation. This happened earlier this year when 17 lions were captured and relocated to another national park.
This type of activity, as well as anti-poaching operations, ranger salaries, vehicles, research, and many other necessary functions – all require funding whether there is tourism or not.