CCFA conservation partners’ response during  COVID 

The COVID-19 crisis is threatening lives and livelihoods throughout Africa and the world. Years of rehabilitation and progress through conservation are being reversed due to desperation and starvation.  Sustainable practices and the projects that drive them seem near impossible to keep alive alongside a shallow breathing economy. In some ways there is little we can do with the current restrictions in place, but there are a few ways in which you can help keep Africa’s heart beating.

At CCFA, we maintain connection and commitment to our project partners by ensuring consistent communication, especially during challenging times.  We consider COVID-19 to be the biggest challenge facing humanity at present. We’d like to share the current status of CCFA supported projects, based on feedback we’ve received from our project partners, as well as some suggested support based solutions that could help save them.

Wilderness Foundation Africa (WFA)

CCFA supports WFA’s Youth Development Programme, which is communications based and requires experiential training in the field. Unfortunately social distancing rules have led to the suspension of all training programmes, including the Siyazenzela course and the Imbewu Trails. The CCFA funded pilot project for the Siyazenzela course was successfully completed in 2019 in the community surrounding the Addo Elephant Park in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

CCFA continues to support WFA during these uncertain times.  WFA plans to reassess the future development of these programmes once the South African lockdown has been lifted. The second CCFA funded Siyazenzela course is due to commence in June 2020, so there is hope that it may still be possible for this course to begin, but with so much uncertainty there is little to no specific planning that can be done.

WFA remains committed to providing opportunities for disadvantaged youths to explore the natural environment and to encourage a new generation of environmentally conscious citizens.

Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA)

RWCA, CCFA’s partner in Rwanda, has unfortunately had to put their community and fieldwork on hold in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the rural areas outside of Kigali. Thankfully there are conservation champions and rangers living and working within these communities, who are able to continue their work with the cranes. The team operates on a rota system in order to ensure there is always someone at the crane sanctuary to keep daily operations running.

The current most urgent costs for RWCA are those that contribute to the monitoring of the cranes in the wild and at the sanctuary and rehabilitation centre.

Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH)

CTPH, CCFA project partner in Uganda, works to prevent human and wildlife interface disease transmission, therefore the team has turned its focus towards the prevention of COVID-19 transmission between humans and gorillas. Research on whether gorillas are susceptible to the virus is inconclusive. However, due to the fact that gorillas and humans have a 98% DNA match, the CTPH team has chosen to remain cautious in their interactions with the gorillas during the pandemic.

CTPH is urgently seeking funding in this time of crisis to support the Uganda Wildlife Authority in the following ways:

  1. Training of park staff to manage tourists and gorillas during the Coronavirus and other similar respiratory disease outbreaks. This includes ensuring the seven metre viewing distance is enforced; mandatory hand washing prior to trekking; disinfection of visitors prior to ape viewing; and masking during the viewing of great apes. The staff will also be trained to use infrared thermometers, for early detection of any illness.
  2. Training of park staff and Gorilla Guardians (who safely herd gorillas back to the park when they forage from community land) on the monitoring of gorilla health and signs to watch out for which could signify COVID-19 infection in Mountain Gorillas.
  3. Training of Village Health and Conservation Teams (who reach every home in their village with critical health, hygiene and conservation information), to help communities take measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in villages where gorillas forage on community land.
  4. Distribution of posters to display in key places around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to remind people of the guidelines on how communities can prevent themselves and gorillas from contracting COVID-19 (working closely with the Ministry of Health).

Mkasanga Foundation – Makupa

It saddens us to report that along with the destructive flooding in Zambia this year, COVID-19 has placed communities in Zambia under serious threat. Makupa Chongo, founder of the Mkasanga Foundation, which aims to provide education for underprivileged girls, is witnessing this plight first hand. Most of the food crops and livestock have been destroyed. With little to no access to store bought meat, and a lack of funds due to the COVID-19 induced economic downturn, the local wildlife is under threat of poaching, as people are turning to hunting as a means to survive. With the closure of tourism in the area, many people have lost employment.

The school girls on Makupa’s programme (two of whom are sponsored by CCFA) have studied hard this year and Makupa is confident that even with the disruption they will pass their grade 9 exams. If or when schools reopen, Makupa foresees that most children won’t be able to attend because their parents will be unemployed. Overall, social morale is low and communities are living in survival mode.  Even amidst these life threatening challenges, Makupa is scheming up plans to support his community, but these plans will also require funding.

Makupa had planned to build a small grocer in his village to help mitigate poaching as a means of survival and to introduce a more sustainable/readily available source of meat. There is currently no butchery near the community. Meat is a staple in the traditional diet,  and with the threat of flooding and other natural disasters, livestock is often destroyed. Makupa was planning to stock additional groceries that can help ensure consistent food supply and support healthy nutrition for adults and especially school children. Makupa would use profits generated from sales at the grocer to fund his education program. This is only one of Makupa’s dreams to revive his community – for now, his dreams must rest on paper.

Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT)

CCFA partner, Tusk Trust, has brought to our attention the increase in gender-based violence as a result of stringent COVID-19 containment procedures. Women face a high risk of contagion due to lack of potable water needed for hygiene measures. Women carry the burden of water collection in rural settings, walking for long distances to fetch water. In these communities women are typically marginalised in decision making and have minimal access to information. They are left feeling helpless and unsure of what measures to take to protect themselves, both against the virus and abuse.

Lack of access to medical services and food insecurity is experienced by both males and females, but effects are intensified in the case of women, especially during pregnancy, childbirth and nursing.

Poor health, collapse in tourism, market closures, loss of employment, rising living costs, degradation of natural resources (by illegal grazing, wildlife poaching, charcoal burning), no access to education, loss of aid support, livelihood stress and social instability are all contributing to a collapse in community and a deathly threat to human life.

During this tumultuous time, staying connected with communities is critical. NRT is bringing together key conservancy personnel and county representatives on a weekly basis to ensure the situation is monitored closely, in order to understand the full impact of this human plight. This strategy has enabled more effective communication during this time of crisis.

We hope these insights into the current challenges facing CCFA supported projects has increased your awareness around the effects of COVID-19 beyond South Africa, and into less fortunate communities. If you would like to help provide opportunities to youth through our Siyazenzela course, educate a girl child in Zambia, support conservation efforts for cranes in Rwanda or gorillas in Uganda, please get in touch with us via email: info@ccfa.afria.

We wish you health and human connection, especially during a time when we are being called to remain physically distant – there is much we can still do to retain our humanity without risking contact, in the struggle against this humanitarian disaster.