The “storm” that is COVID 19 has arrived in South Africa and by all accounts, we have weathered it better than many had predicted. I like to put this down to the resilience and fighting spirit of South African people from all walks of life. We are certainly a nation of survivors!
The lengthy lockdown has not however been without severe, and in some cases, catastrophic consequences for our economy and the day-to-day lives of millions of people.
Each of us knows of (or is) someone who has lost their job, their business, their home or a loved one. My heart goes out to all those that have suffered and for whom the fight back to a life of dignity and prosperity may still be a long and hard one.
The EWT has not been immune to these impacts. We have had staff members who have become ill, but thankfully all have recovered. The Trust has suffered the dramatic and swift loss of significant income streams, due to cancelled events, donations and sponsorships, and the loss of discretionary income among our loyal supporters.
In these tough times the EWT staff have rallied together and taken voluntary pay cuts across the board to sustain the EWT into the future and weather this storm. I am always humbled and grateful to work among not only the best conservation team in the country, but also one of the most committed and unified. The cut in pay was despite most of the staff working harder than ever before, juggling long hours on email and conference calls with home schooling, family responsibilities and still providing essential conservation services in the field.
I have been asked several times in recent weeks to comment on the recent downwards trend in rhino poaching statistics. Indeed, the closed national and provincial borders and the curfew have assisted in reducing the number of rhino poached as the movement of horns is far more likely to be detected under these conditions. It just shows what vigilant and visible policing can do! Contrary to this trend, however, is the rapid and dramatic escalation in the poaching of a range of other species using snares and poison. This is a clear sign of people being hungry, unemployed and having unfettered access to wildlife reserves due to the reduced numbers of tourists, guides and rangers on the roads.
The EWT has responded to all of these threats and has deployed teams to train hundreds of rangers in our national parks on poison scene management, and we have collected hundreds of snares from conservation areas all around South Africa. We have responded to the increase in illegal wildlife trade and have increased the range of species detected by our wildlife detection dogs. Our wildlife screening dogs have not stopped working during this time.
We continue to monitor Cheetah and Wild Dogs at risk of being persecuted and we have responded to other wildlife in distress ranging from vultures to cranes and owls. The EWT is available 24/7 and has been where our wildlife has needed us, during this time, as we always are. We continue to work with our rural community partners and are training dozens of emerging farmers in remote parts of the Karoo using online digital platforms. We have handed out over a thousand food parcels to communities in the most remote parts of Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
We have worked tirelessly behind the scenes with our partners in business, government and civil society to support a gradual reopening of the nature-based tourism industry, an industry that supports the livelihoods of thousands of the most vulnerable people and which injects considerable income into sustaining vital conservation services around the country. We are delighted that the reopening of intra-provincial tourism will now allow many of these people to earn a legitimate living and safeguard our wildlife heritage once again. From where we sit, the hope that this brings, and the dawn of spring are enough to keep our spirits high!
Above all, our hope comes from the many donations that we have received from our loyal EWT family and the knowledge that, as tough as things are for your families and friends, you have not forgotten us and continue to keep our African wildlife heritage in your thoughts. Thankyou.
Remember that all donations to the EWT can assist you in applying for a reduction in your taxes and tax season is upon us, so now is the time to donate to us once again. Your donation keeps our team in the field, helps our staff respond to poaching, poisoning and snaring, whilst assisting our farmers and communities to improve their livelihoods and conserve their surroundings.
The Wild Dogs that we moved in July have bred. With your help, a new generation of pups will now grow up and keep this species a step away from extinction. The vultures that we kept alive after the mass poison incident in June are flying again. Our skies are graced once again with the flight of the injured Blue Crane which has since recovered from its ordeal with a fence.
We need YOUR support so that our work can support so many more. We need YOUR support to build a future for these species and the millions that benefit from our wildlife and we need YOUR support to keep us going so that future generations can enjoy everything that we have.
Thank you for being a part of protecting forever, together. Thank you for staying with us in this time.
Yolan Friedmann, Endangered Wildlife Trust CEO