Lifting the lid on the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic in the world of conservation, Werner Myburgh, CEO of Peace Parks Foundation, reveals what Peace Parks and partners have been up to, and why it is imperative for everyone to take action, to do something, however small it may seem, to help southern Africa, its people and wildlife.

It has been devastating for the region. National parks, reserves and protected spaces traditionally rely on only two forms of income – donor money and tourism. With tourism halted since March 2020, income into the protected areas across the region has stopped. Everyone, from those in the airlines to the food industry, the parks, lodges, rangers and support staff, is suffering.

Peace Parks Foundation is a little less impacted than many of the parks, as its focus is on rehabilitating and rewilding parks that have little to no tourism as yet. So, with the incredibly generous donation of 6 million euros from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), through the KfW Development Bank, its response to the pandemic has been to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Peace Parks imported container-loads of masks, distributing 200 000 while also helping women in communities to learn how to make masks themselves. They distributed 44 tonnes of soap and 4.5 tonnes of sanitisers in support of around 240 000 people that live in and around the parks.

A Cash-for-Work programme was launched to provide an income for people living around the parks. By clearing kilometers of roads, fixing fences and doing other vital maintenance work, over 2 000 people were fully employed.

Peace Parks has also been working hard behind the scenes to look at diversification of income streams so that in future the region is less dependent on finance from tourism and donors. It has created an innovative conservation finance division (known as the Conservation Finance Enterprise unit) to work up models for unlocking private sector money.

Peace Parks Foundation’s focus for future conservation will involve innovative mechanisms such as the carbon credit initiative put in place before COVID-19 struck, that empower people to become independent of continual hand-outs.

So, what can we all do? It can be difficult to know how to make a difference. What is important to know is that every cent counts. Even a £10 donation can employ someone for a full day, for example. CEO Werner urges everyone to become an activist, to spread the word, to share what Peace Parks and partners are doing, to contribute to the story by being actively involved. Even spending time sharing conservation focused content on social media is just as valuable as donating towards a cause. The point is that what is most important is to do something.

Extremely proud of the Peace Parks team, and all the generous donors, partners and others involved with Peace Parks, Werner remains positive for the future. He sees a positive future for southern Africa, where respect for all life on earth will become the norm, and humankind living in harmony with nature will become a way of life.