African Hunting Safari Travel and COVID-19
Posted On : Aug 10, 2020
Posted By : JM
Traveling for an African Hunting Safari during the Coronavirus Pandemic
A lot of hunters are staring at their facemasks and wondering just what is going to happen to African safaris. It is true that wildlife conservation and hunting has not escaped the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is largely because tourism and hunting funding, which supports the wildlife conservation effort in Africa, has pretty much dried up.
Wildlife based tourism and hunting is worth roughly $71 billion dollars annually. A lot of this money helps fund the management of protected areas. For example, one white rhino at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy requires over $10,000 per year to survive.
Also, since the virus lockdown, anti-poaching operations have been severely curtailed. Fence line repairs and wildlife management have been seriously degraded. Trophy hunting is a major source of this funding. It contributes approximately $200 million annually to countries across Africa. Trophy hunting takes place across much of sub-Saharan Africa, with Tanzania, Namibia, and South Africa controlling the largest market share. The debate over trophy hunting as a source of revenue takes on a new sense of urgency during the pandemic.
The hunting industry is facing increasing pressure due to it being perceived by many non-hunters as being grotesque and morally reprehensible. Viral images like Cecil the lion that circulated widely on the internet in 2015 did not helped the situation. (Interesting to note; the villagers did not call the lion by name, as they do not name carnivores.) A few Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and animal rights groups came out of the woodwork protesting that all hunting trophies should be banned from importation. Some of them have even called for a ban on all hunting.
As a result of these actions, some countries like Botswana and Zambia had either instituted hunting bans, or sharply curtailed most hunting. However, a hunting ban can run into the law of unintended consequences. An outright hunting ban can adversely affect landowners with hunting concessions. They would suffer a very reduced income, and possibly go out of business, be forced into eco-tourism, or must switch to domestic farming.
The problem with eco-tourism is that the landowners feel that this type of transition would be unfeasible because they would have to compete in a saturated tourism market. Many of these areas are unsuitable for eco-tourism. Fewer than 35 percent of farmers interviewed stated that they would switch to photo safaris and wildlife viewing if hunting were banned.
Also, a trophy hunting ban would bring about devastating effects on wildlife conservation. The practice of trophy hunting conserves land that normally would not be protected. In an article published recently, researchers stated. “Trophy hunting is facing increased pressure due to the perceptions of a small number of un-informed people.” Trophy hunting conserves large amounts of land that are not considered tourist destinations. One of the ways that the animals and ecosystem profits from this is that the outfitters and landowners support pans (ponds) that would normally be empty during the dry season, insuring a supply of water for both domestic and wild animals. It costs good sums of money to drill wells and to install and maintain solar pump systems in remote areas.
Advocacy groups and policy makers that are being pressured to end all trophy hunting need to consider the ramification of hunting bans especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alternative sources of revenue must be developed with landowners and hunting communities to sustain both conservation and land use, while avoiding any hunting bans, which provide the funding for the conservation measures necessary to support the wildlife in these areas.
How to Deal with COVID-19 and Hunting in Africa
So, what does this bode for you, the hunter? Well, first of all, this is not the first disruption of African hunting. Africa, and in particular Zimbabwe, went through bad times in 2000, when Robert Mugabe pretty much ended land ownership for the white farmers, and in 2014 when Ebola rampaged through west Africa. Looking back, it is obvious that misinformation and misguided reactions put a greater strain on the hunting industry than the actual incidents themselves.
The 2020 outbreak is unprecedented, but it is not going to put people’s lives on hold forever. The idea is to remain calm, gather reliable facts, maintain perspective and plan for a return to what passes for normal in the near future. Every safari is unique and must be dealt with on a case by case basis.
For instance: You are already booked, but the World Health Organization (WHO) or big government advises against traveling to a particular African country – then what? Well, if you have taken out travel insurance, then you can file a claim. Some travel policies will not cover cancellations due to “an act of God, war, or pandemic”, so you need to carefully read any policy before you sign on the dotted line.
If an insurer will not offer cancellation coverage, then the best strategy is to go for a postponement. Most outfitters will be willing to work with you on setting a future date. Remember, they want you to come hunt with them.
Second case: you are set to go, but there is no travel advisory, however you don’t feel comfortable travelling for a lot of hours in a small aluminum tube surrounded by people that you have never met. If you cancel, there is a likelihood that full cancellation charges will apply.
Travel insurance will most likely not cover cancellation because of a disinclination to travel. Again, read the small print on your policy. I did not and it cost me a whole bunch of money. Here again, your best bet is probably to postpone your safari for a year. Most airlines will charge you to switch flights, but the charge is nominal compared to the total airline cost. Contact your outfitter about moving your dates. Most will accommodate your request without penalty. Be advised, though, season changes and upgrades can result in additional costs.
OK, you are not booked yet, but you plan on going in the future. The best thing to understand is that the COVID-19 outbreak will eventually pass. You will not find yourself looking through a scope while your mask blocks your vision.
After the various disasters like 911, the 2008 credit debacle, and the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the whole hunting situation improved rapidly. Sure, there were some changes, but hunting safaris resumed quickly. What did happen, is that hunting dates filled rapidly. I usually advise to plan a safari at least a year in advance, but I think once the COVID-19 outbreak passes, there is going to be a mad rush to get into the bush, so it might just behoove you to plan 18 to 24 months out.
Looking around, it seems like most outfitters are more than willing to honor current rates for bookings that extend into 2021 and 2022. Be advised, I expect that most insurers will tighten up on cancellation clauses regarding future disruptions. As with all insured trips, you need to double check that your insurance policy fits your needs and requirements.
COVID-19 Travel Updates as of August 5, 2020
Tanzania: As of June 2020, the government lifted the suspension of international scheduled passenger flights in and out of the country. Travelers are required to complete a Travelers Surveillance Form and be subjected to enhanced screening upon arrival. Travelers with a fever will be diverted for further examination. Everyone must follow social distancing, including hand cleaning and masks. All hotels in Zanzibar are closed.
Botswana: The country is currently closed to everyone except returning nationals and permanent residents. No new visas are being issued, and previously issued visas are being cancelled. Botswana has declared a state of emergency until September 2020.
Namibia: Effective September 1, 2021, Namibia will reopen for tourism and hunting. A minimum 7 day stay will be required for quarantine, so you must book at least a 7-day hunt to comply.
South Africa: There is a current curfew / lockdown, and tourism facilities are closed. US citizens are not currently eligible for the ‘visa on arrival’ option. That should change once travel resumes. It is anticipated that hunting tourism travel will resume in January or February of 2021.
Zambia: Hunting tourism has resumed with the following restrictions: The Government of Zambia is enforcing a 14-day quarantine, testing, and regular monitoring of persons entering the country. So hunting is allowed but you will need to book a minimum of a 14-day hunt. Symptomatic persons will be required to enter isolation at a Zambian government facility.
South African Airways: SAA advises that all SAA-operated flights on international routes are suspended until August, and all regional and domestic flights are suspended until the same time. Be advised, SAA is having major financial problems. Check with them as far as flight availability.
Air Botswana: The airline resumed domestic operations as of July 17, 2020.
Kenya Airways: Has been closed but should be resuming flights sometime in August 2020. The airline started domestic service in July, but international flights will not be opening up until August.
Emirates: Passengers must carry a negative PCR certificate issued by a government- approved laboratory to board a flight. Certificates must have been issued no more than 96 hours before the flight.
Etihad Airways: They are operating flights around the world, but some flights will require PCR tests.
For the most up to date information on African travel, check with the State Department list that contains the most up-to-date status of travel restrictions.
It is still unclear when African countries will be totally open for tourism and travel. Travel will start slowly. It will be people mostly traveling within their own countries, then expand out to tourists from outside the continent. Tourism will come back after the COVID-19 crisis passes, but it will change a great deal. It may start back in a few months, but it could take one or two years to stabilize. Some countries will impose expensive health insurance requirements; some will require 10 day to 2-week quarantines before hunters can go on safari. There may be a reduction in older travelers due to the higher risk of contracting a virus.
There will be a big psychological impact on both travelers and residents. Some African residents may believe that visitors will bring the virus in-country. People who track the news and are used to seeing foreigners will not have a problem, however it might be problematical for those who do not come into contact with many travelers.
Whether it is learning about a different culture or hunting wild animals in their natural habitat, the safari experience will let you see that there is more to life than your day-to-day existence.
So, take precautions to stay well while on safari, but as soon as it is safe to travel, go. Go to Africa and be prepared to be amazed.