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COVID-19’s Jeopardy: Lion’s Share Provides Lifeline To Wildlife Tourism Communities


The Lion’s Share today announced new grants to support communities dependent on wildlife-based tourism – an industry that employs millions and is critical to wildlife conservation around the world, but one that has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The grants will fund local projects in nine countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America to build resilience in communities in wildlife-rich areas and support protection of threatened wildlife in their last strongholds.

These initial grants, which amount to $400,000 and are issued in partnership with the GEF Small Grants Programme, mark the first investments to come from the COVID-19 response of The Lion’s Share – an award-winning initiative led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and a coalition of businesses and UN partners, that asks brands to contribute 0.5 per cent of their media spend every time an animal image is featured in their advertisements.

Following a call for proposals in April, The Lion’s Share received over 1600 applications from nonprofit organizations working in crucial wildlife areas. The calls for help detail loss of jobs and income, loss of conservation project funding, increased poaching, and widespread food insecurity. The Lion’s Share will continue to raise up to $3 million dollars to fund all the top 40 selected projects.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, wildlife tourism generated USD 343.6 billion and supported over 21.8 million jobs in 2018. Through wildlife tourism, communities directly benefit from wildlife, empowering them to develop enterprises and generate much-needed employment and income.  Incentivized to protect wildlife and their habitats, they have become valuable guardians of nature at the frontlines of conservation. However, travel restrictions to slow the pandemic have depleted economic lifelines for hundreds of millions of people and conservation activities in wildlife-rich areas. Iconic species such as rhinos, elephants, gorillas, sea turtles, tigers, sharks and pangolins are facing unprecedented threats.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, wildlife tourism generated USD 343.6 billion and supported over 21.8 million jobs in 2018

Achim Steiner, the UNDP Administrator, said: “The spread of COVID-19 is a socio-economic, environmental, and governance crisis as much as a health crisis – a stark reminder that human health and well-being is intrinsically linked to the health and well-being of our planet.  We will recover from this crisis, but we must use this opportunity to build back a more equal, inclusive, sustainable, safer and healthier planet.  By leveraging the power of partnerships, The Lion’s Share has been able to not only raise financing for conservation and wildlife, but also engage businesses and consumers on this urgent issue.”

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of the United Nations Secretary-General’s call to transform the tourism sector to become more resilient, inclusive and sustainable, warning that the impacts of COVID-19 on tourism threaten to increase poverty and inequality, as well as reverse nature conservation efforts.  Indeed, the top 40 proposals selected for funding highlight that the most common threats facing communities are the loss of jobs and income (100% of proposals), increased poaching and overfishing (95%), and increased habitat destruction (95%).

To aid in their socio-economic recovery, The Lion’s Share grants will fund local projects that build community resilience through the development of skills and alternative sources of income, including cheesemaking in the snow leopard steppe of Mongolia, sustainable fish farming in Zambia, permaculture training in Nepal, and beekeeping in Uganda. Twenty of the 40 projects include actions that directly engage, and benefit women’s cooperatives, indigenous stewardship and youth activities, fostering inclusion of marginalized groups, for whom tourism has been a vehicle for integration and empowerment.  Alternative sources of income, like the creation of virtual tours in Bhutan, would not only link travellers with nature, but also help maintain the communities’ confidence in tourism and conservation, build digital skills, and promote innovation and use of technology in the tourism ecosystem.

­The first nine projects also include: Virtual Safaris, Permaculture Gardens & Elephant-Human Conflict Reducing Chili Fences in Namibia; supporting the Black Mambas – the world’s first all-female anti-poaching unit – in bee-keeping and permaculture to reduce human-elephant conflict in South Africa; Sustainable Agriculture & Natural Medicinal Knowledge to support the Achuar indigenous community in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador; and Sea Turtle Anti-Poaching Rangers, and Community Livelihoods & Education in Sri Lanka.

All 40 project locations support imperiled species, and more than half of all projects are based in locations where multiple endangered and critically endangered species are present. Nearly a quarter of projects are located in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves or World Heritage Sites, internationally recognized for their importance as conservation priorities. Investing in these crucial wildlife areas and supporting jobs and livelihoods in these local communities foster green growth.  They address future economic risks by contributing to tackling climate change and biodiversity loss; safeguarding natural ecosystem services, such as clean water, crop pollination, and more; and reducing the risk of new zoonotic diseases emerging with the potential to become pandemics.

“We are extremely grateful for the support offered by Lion’s Share,” said Dr Michelle Henley, Co-founder, CEO and Principal Researcher of Elephants Alive – one of the funding recipients. “This grant will enable us to upskill the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit to keep bees and grow permaculture so that these women who are critically involved in protecting our wildlife can supplement much-needed income. This proof of concept in South Africa will then be implemented in vital elephant corridors, ensuring that living with elephants can be viewed as a bonus and not a burden to local people.  Over the last 100 years, we have lost 97% of the African continental elephant population. How lonely it would be for our children if there were no elephants left. When we protect elephants, we protect habitats and a multitude of other species in the process, and in turn, our planet.”

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