The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting conservation efforts in Madagascar


The Coquerel Sifaka in its natural environment in a Malagasy national park.
Eugen Haag/Shutterstock

Estelle Razanatsoa, University of Cape TownThe effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the restriction policies used to mitigate the spread of the virus, are being felt all over the world. It affects all parts of life including conservation especially in developing countries like Madagascar.

Madagascar’s natural environment faces multiple challenges. These include deforestation, erosion, a changing climate, agriculture fires,
hunting and the over-collection of animals and plants from the wild. One of the biggest hurdles, which exacerbates these issues, is that poverty is widespread in Madagascar. It’s estimated that 75% of people in Madagascar live on less than $1.90 per day, and so many depend on natural resources.

There are about 500 conservation projects which are trying to address these challenges and provide employment to local communities.

I collaborated with a group of conservation managers and researchers, mostly from Madagascar, to assess exactly how the pandemic has affected conservation activities. Our paper is based on our personal experiences and involvement in establishing management strategies during the pandemic.

We found that the pandemic challenged existing conservation structures and management. The issue is that most of Madagascar’s conservation and research projects are conceptualised and funded from abroad – the Global North. Non-governmental organisations on the ground implement their activities with the help of communities living close to protected areas.

Because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, several activities were forced to stop. This included vital training and biodiversity monitoring.

This situation provides us with the opportunity to re-examine strategies and research approaches to build resilience for future crises. The foundation of which lies with the true empowerment of local communities, conservationists and researchers.

Challenges and coping strategies

Our research involved members of organisations that manage multiple sites and protected areas across Madagascar. These included WWF Madagascar, the Aspinall Foundation, the Missouri Botanical Garden in Madagascar and the Madagascar National Parks. The type of activities they carry out include both research and conservation.

Prior to the pandemic, activities were directed and funded by local and international agencies. Although there are initiatives that emerged locally, typically foreigners would lead and manage the projects. Malagasies (often those that live around the conservation areas) were usually employed to take on basic roles. For instance as project assistants, field guiding and patrolling. These activities provided them with an additional income to subsistence agriculture.

We found that restrictions, taken to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus, had a dramatic effect on conservation and research activities. Travel from abroad and within the country reduced the ability of projects to conduct activities. Foreigners, who were running projects, couldn’t come in. And there were also challenges managing activities from the capital, Antananarivo.

Border closures also meant international tourists and researchers couldn’t come into Madagascar. This resulted in less financial resources for conservation activities. For instance, park entrance and research permit fees are often used to fund conservation activities such as surveillance activities. They also provide park guides with an income.

In addition to a loss of income, in some cases project costs grew. This was because staff had to work from home, which increased communication expenses, and because local communities needed to report to head offices using phones. There were also additional costs related to health safety measures, such as masks and sanitisers.

Because there’s less surveillance activity, and also because many communities living close to protected areas had lost their supplementary income, there’s been an increase in illegal activities inside some national parks. This includes more hunting, logging and charcoal production.

In addition, environmental education and awareness activities for local communities living around protected areas ceased.

Not all local communities lost their work. In some places local communities were relied on to continue conservation and research activities, like reforestation and forest surveillance. But, because they weren’t adequately trained, this compromised the project.

Forest rangers, usually accompanied by permanent staff, had to perform habitat and species monitoring alone. But they faced challenges. This relates mostly to the transfer or proper storage of monitoring data because of the lack of technological knowledge and reduced connectivity in some remote sites.

Improving the model

All of these insights make a strong case for a change in Madagascar’s conservation model. In recent years, scientists and researchers have argued that locally-based conservation activities are more resilient as they engage and provide benefits to local communities.

Our paper supports this. Projects should be more independent so that they can continue to run without such a heavy reliance on human resources from abroad. More needs to be done to ensure that the workforce is predominantly local, and driven by locals.

Projects should also provide leadership opportunities to local managers and researchers.

Communities living near protected areas have benefited from the efforts of NGOs and conservation organisations. However, such an approach should include possibilities for diversifying livelihoods that take into account local needs and values.

We hope that the lessons we have learned in Madagascar during COVID-19 will help to drive conservation and research in developing countries towards a more inclusive, sustainable, and equitable model. This would help to improve the success of conservation activities.The Conversation

Estelle Razanatsoa, Postdoctoral Fellow, Plant Conservation Unit (PCU), University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Pest plants and animals cost Australia around $25 billion a year – and it will get worse



AAP

Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Flinders University and Andrew Hoskins, CSIRO

Shamefully, Australia has one of the highest extinction rates in the world.
And the number one threat to our species is invasive or “alien” plants and animals.

But invasive species don’t just cause extinctions and biodiversity loss – they also create a serious economic burden. Our research, published today, reveals invasive species have cost the Australian economy at least A$390 billion in the last 60 years alone.

Our paper – the most detailed assessment of its type ever published in this country – also reveals feral cats are the worst invasive species in terms of total costs, followed by rabbits and fire ants.

Without urgent action, Australia will continue to lose billions of dollars every year on invasive species.

Feral cats are Australia’s costliest invasive species.
Adobe Stock/240188862

Huge economic burden

Invasive species are those not native to a particular ecosystem. They are introduced either by accident or on purpose and become pests.

Some costs involve direct damage to agriculture, such as insects or fungi destroying fruit. Other examples include measures to control invasive species like feral cats and cane toads, such as paying field staff and buying fuel, ammunition, traps and poisons.

Our previous research put the global cost of invasive species at A$1.7 trillion. But this is most certainly a gross underestimate because so many data are missing.




Read more:
Attack of the alien invaders: pest plants and animals leave a frightening $1.7 trillion bill


As a wealthy nation, Australia has accumulated more reliable cost data than most other regions. These costs have increased exponentially over time – up to sixfold each decade since the 1970s.

We found invasive species now cost Australia around A$24.5 billion a year, or an average 1.26% of the nation’s gross domestic product. The costs total at least A$390 billion in the past 60 years.

Increase in annual costs of invasive species in Australia from 1960 to 2020. The predicted range for 2020 is shown in the upper left quadrant. Note the logarithmic scale of the vertical axis.
CJA Bradshaw

Worst of the worst

Our analysis found feral cats have been the most economically costly species since 1960. Their A$18.7 billion bill is mainly associated with attempts to control their abundance and access, such as fencing, trapping, baiting and shooting.

Feral cats are a main driver of extinctions in Australia, and so perhaps investment to limit their damage is worth the price tag.

Tasmania’s bane — ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)
Adobe Stock/157770032

As a group, the management and control of invasive plants proved the worst of all, collectively costing about A$200 billion. Of these, annual ryegrass, parthenium and ragwort were the costliest culprits because of the great effort needed to eradicate them from croplands.

Invasive mammals were the next biggest burdens, costing Australia A$63 billion.

The 10 costliest invasive species in Australia.
CJA Bradshaw

Variation across regions

For costs that can be attributed to particular states or territories, New South Wales had the highest costs, followed by Western Australia then Victoria.

Red imported fire ants are the costliest species in Queensland, and ragwort is the economic bane of Tasmania.

The common heliotrope is the costliest species in both South Australia and Victoria, and annual ryegrass tops the list in WA.

In the Northern Territory, the dothideomycete fungus that causes banana freckle disease brings the greatest economic burden, whereas cats and foxes are the costliest species in the ACT and NSW.

The three costliest species by Australian state/territory.
CJA Bradshaw

Better assessments needed

Our study is one of 19 region-specific analyses released today. Because the message about invasive species must get out to as many people as possible, our article’s abstract was translated into 24 languages.

This includes Pitjantjatjara, a widely spoken Indigenous language.




Read more:
Australia’s threatened species plan has failed on several counts. Without change, more extinctions are assured


Even the massive costs we reported are an underestimate. This is because of we haven’t yet surveyed all the places these species occur, and there is a lack of standardised reporting by management authorities and other agencies.

For example, our database lists several fungal plant pathogens. But no cost data exist for some of the worst offenders, such as the widespread Phytophthora cinnamomi pathogen that causes major crop losses and damage to biodiversity.

Developing better methods to estimate the environmental impacts of invasive species, and the benefit of management actions, will allow us to use limited resources more efficiently.

Phytophthora cinnamomi, a widespread, but largely uncosted, fungal pathogen.
Adobe Stock/272252666

A constant threat

Fall armyworm, a major crop pest.
Adobe Stock/335450066

Many species damaging to agriculture and the environment are yet to make it to our shores.

The recent arrival in Australia of fall armyworm, a major agriculture pest, reminds us how invasive species will continue their spread here and elsewhere.

As well as the economic damage, invasive species also bring intangible costs we have yet to measure adequately. These include the true extent of ecological damage, human health consequences, erosion of ecosystem services and the loss of cultural values.

Without better data, increased investment, a stronger biosecurity system and interventions such as animal culls, invasive species will continue to wreak havoc across Australia.


The authors acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which they did this research.

Ngadlu tampinthi yalaka ngadlu Kaurna yartangka inparrinthi. Ngadludlu tampinthi, parnaku tuwila yartangka.The Conversation

Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Matthew Flinders Professor of Global Ecology and Models Theme Leader for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, Flinders University and Andrew Hoskins, Research scientist CSIRO Health and Biosecurity, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.