Love in the Time of Corona – Conservation & Community at Great Plains Conservation

Elephant bonds in the wilderness of Selinda Camp, Botswana.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, Great Plains Conservation continues to protect wildernesses, enforce focused anti-poaching measures and assist vulnerable communities. Because now more than ever, it is important to unite however we can, and to care for one another and remember our connection with the earth.

As much as there have been critical repercussions of the novel coronavirus on society, there have also been incredible happenings around the world as the pandemic has taken hold of our human activities and closed down industries and transport networks.

Things are quieter… to the point that researchers who study Earth’s movement report a drop in seismic noise (the hum of vibrations in the planet’s crust). This has enabled detectors to be better able to spot smaller earthquakes and monitor volcanic activity and other seismic events.

Individually, many of us have found Lockdown to be a return to peace and quiet in our own lives too, enabling us to focus on family and self-care and the simple but important things in life. People have united globally to share and assist and support wherever they can.

The quietness of the Okavango Delta

Rewilding the World

Swans and dolphins have been flocking to Venetian canals in droves and drunken elephants have been enjoying tea parties in China. Or so fake news tried to make us believe… The sentiment at the heart of these false reports though spoke to something bigger within us, that part of us that knows and understands why protecting nature is important, the part that recognises nature’s power to restore itself, when given the chance.

“There is little doubt that the Earth is breathing a sigh of relief from the constant pressure we put it under,” says Dereck Joubert, CEO of Great Plains Conservation. “But I would be irresponsible to take any delight in this because of the tragedy and the scale of human suffering that has resulted. It’s sad and worrying. But all this suffering would be for nothing at all if it didn’t lead to us redefining our relationship with Nature now. Something better has to come from it, not just a return to the old normal, of polluting, killing, and poor human behaviour. This may well encourage us to lean in and evolve better versions of what we were.”

An Eden for Elephants (and hippo…) ~ at Duba Plains Camp in Botswana

The return of wildlife that we may notice in certain areas is due to much more than coronavirus. It’s the effect of a long trend of policies that provide and enable better protection, less poaching, habitat improvements, safe havens and less hunting.

“If we believe that Nature is perfect, and I do,” Dereck adds, “we should also be careful about the rethoric about this being Nature Biting Back or implying some active malignancy to punish us. Nature doesn’t do that. That is a purely human trait. The cyclones, earthquakes, viruses and other outbreaks that harm us may often be as a result of our actions (climate change, wet markets in China, etc.) and until we find that balance, and harmony with Nature we will continue to feel that sting. But Nature is not the enemy and I worry that it is being increasingly seen as such.”

Under the peace of the night sky at ol Donyo Lodge in the remote and natural world of the Chyulu Hills in Kenya.

At Great Plains Conservation…

We have seen the incredible power of wild ecosystems in being able to recover and return to their natural glory, once hunting is eradicated and the land, wildlife and communities are protected. We’ve transformed previous hunting grounds into wild havens focused on conservation, community empowerment and photographic rather than hunting safaris, and implemented thorough anti-poaching bodies and precautions to quell the poaching epidemic in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

We’ve always believed in smaller footprints and environmentally sustainable camps and operations that touch the earth lightly while still giving people a chance to witness nature and African wildlife and birdlife.

Down time at Duba Explorers Camp in the Okavango Delta

Tourism’s Role in Conservation

The income from our tourism operations at Great Plains Conservation goes to community work and conservation work. We have never drawn a dividend. Our guests join us in our work at Great Plains Foundation and further donations go into the continued immediate on-the-ground protection of the ecosystems and communities around our camps, in a world where farming, hunting, poaching and big industry threaten to take over. The presence of tourists in these areas has other vital effects on nature and wildlife. For instance, and importantly so, in reducing poaching, if only by being a presence.

With fewer travellers in our reserves in Africa now, the wildlife is more vulnerable to poachers, as we have already seen in reports about rhino poaching in South Africa and Botswana.

Kenya’s tuskers coming together at ol Donyo Lodge

“These animals are not just protected by rangers, they’re also protected by tourist presence,” said Tim Davenport, who directs species conservation programmes for Africa at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “If you’re a poacher, you’re not going to go to a place where there are lots of tourists, you’re going to go to a place where there are very few of them.”

Dereck agrees: “Vacant land with no tourism, where there were once thriving businesses, are not only vulnerable, but they leave open flanks to national parks. With thousands if not hundreds of thousands of job losses now on the horizon, I’m concerned about the reaction these impoverished communities may have and the switch to massive overuse of that natural capital.”

It’s more essential than ever to pool our resources to protect not only wildlife, but the communities living alongside them as people suffer loss of job security due to the coronavirus pandemic. In many of these wilderness areas, tourism is the largest employer of local residents and a critical contributor to the local economy. With the loss of tourism dollars comes the temptation for illegal sources of income.

Our guides at the Great Plains Conservation Botswana camps have been redirected to assist our Rhinos Without Borders anti-poaching units – to help patrol the concessions and keep protective eyes on the rhinos daily. We have seen incredible success through these units and through the initiative, with 87 rhino translocated from hotspots in South Africa to Botswana for safety.

The heroes of Great Plains Foundation’s Rhinos Without Borders on the ground and keeping eyes on the rhinos.

Lockdown in Local Communities

To assist the smaller, isolated communities alongside us in Botswana, we launched a Covid-19 Campaign, before the country’s lockdown, to raise awareness about coronavirus and its effects in the villages in the Okavango region, where many of our employees live and have returned to at this time. Here, large numbers of people live together without access to the sanitation and the technology of cities.

We’ve organised a doctor from Gaborone in Botswana to visit and train our staff in preventing the spread of the virus and using oxygen machines – training that was translated into the local Setswana.

We set up isolation tents in the camps, which we are looking at transporting to the communities, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health who will conduct the necessary training and have just donated one of these fully-equipped military medical tents to our community partners in the Okavango Community Trust area. We have also donated essential hand-sanitisers, soaps and other supplies to the villages.

Preparing for COVID-19 in the Okavango, with the isolation tent we recently donated to the village of Seronga in Botswana.

 

This isolation tent will be used as a medical facility servicing the rural communities boarding the northwestern Okavango Delta.

Through funding from the Great Plains Foundation, our Solar Mamas team of nine women recently returned from India’s exemplary Barefoot College, which provides women from rural communities around the world with training to help them take control of their lives and the well-being of their communities. The women come from the Okavango Community Trust villages in Botswana and were elected for the trip by their communities. At the College, they received invaluable education in not only solar power, but also basic hygiene, feminine health, contraception and entrepreneur skills. Training that they can now apply in their villages, as their focus shifts from implementing renewable power systems to community healthcare during this critical time.

The small things that make a huge impact… such as solar lantern in Botswana, donated through funding by guests and other kind donors.

In Kenya, our teams are continuing to work with local community organisations, such as the Maa Trust in the Maasai Mara, to support the needs of the most vulnerable youth and families during the extended school closures. The vital social services provided by local groups is all the more essential during this period of disruption.

We can never do enough in times like this, but we are looking at new ways to go above and beyond to better assist in providing for the people who are most at risk and for the wildlife who are most threatened.

“So, love in the time of Corona?” Dereck adds. ..

“There has been no more intense and important a time to express love and support for each other in our lifetimes. It’s a time where compassion and caring, the love of harmony and one another will prevail, and it’s a time to turn our backs on the killing and polluting in a post-COVID era.”

A return to the simple things at Mara Plains Camp in the Maasai Mara of Kenya.

Stay inspired during Corona with Dereck & Beverly’s Keep the Dream Alive series

Follow these on our Facebook page and stay tuned for some really exciting initiatives we will be announcing within two weeks.

Find out more about the incredible conservation and community work that continues to be carried out on the ground by Great Plains Conservation with: Rhinos Without Borders and the Great Plains Foundation.

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