Pandemic Tourism Decline Puts South African Game Reserves at Risk

Previously thriving spaces face an uncertain future

A kudu at Nambiti game reserve.
Colin Watts/Unsplash

Located a few hours from Johannesburg, Nambiti Private Game Reserve is home to a wide variety of animals and ecosystems. Like many nature reserves, it allows threatened species to thrive in a specific environment, serving as a balance to help restore populations of animals that may have been adversely affected by hunting or the loss of their habitats.

A new article at The Guardian by Jason Burke reveals that the staff at Nambiti are currently wrestling with difficult decisions, however — namely, decisions about culling some of the animals that reside there. Why? Because of COVID-19’s devastating effect on tourism — something that Nambiti and other game reserves depend on for the revenue that keeps them operational.

Nambiti’s chairman, Clarke Smith, described the issues the reserves face. “Reserves like ours went from quite a nice income supporting 300 jobs and a massive conservation project to literally nothing,” Smith said. And, as Burke notes, South Africa has around 500 private game reserves — all of them going through harrowing times.

The assistant manager of Nambiti, Njabulo Hodla, summarized the situation, telling The Guardian, “I’ve never seen a season like it.”

The effects on the region go beyond the fate of the wildlife on the reserves. Many reserves play a large role in the regional economy. In the article, Burke writes that “Nambiti is a community-owned project, unlike many, so a substantial proportion of profits and an annual lease are paid to local villages.” With the decline in tourism, so too have the payments to nearby communities dropped — creating a worrying cascade of events.

The Guardian also notes that future of some reserves is in doubt, with the land being used for farming instead. Should that come to pass, it would be a blow both to the people who work at these reserves and to the cause of conservation as a whole.

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.