Panthera’s 2019 Annual Report: The Foundation for a New Conservation
August 12, 2020
August 17, 2020
In the midst of a global pandemic, 2019 feels decades away. Panthera’s 2019 Annual Report is a summary of accomplishments, discoveries and obstacles before COVID-19 changed the world as we know it. Despite this, it’s important to reflect on 2019 as the year we laid the foundation to maintain our critical impact even in a post-pandemic world.
2019 was a time when ecotourism empowered communities to reconnect with their local wildlife, when experts could travel freely to give trainings on wildlife monitoring and effective law enforcement methods and when the threat of the illegal wildlife trade was merely theoretical to those physically distant from it. With so much transpiring between the end of 2019 and now, is there a point to a 2019 annual report other than as a checkbox for non-profits wishing to declare themselves transparent?
For Panthera, I can respond with an emphatic yes. While we may not have known it at the time, we laid the foundation in 2019 to maintain our impact even in a COVID-19 world. We intentionally became more geographically dispersed, depending less on cross-oceanic flights and emphasizing local knowledge and leadership. Because of changes made in 2019, our staff were in-country and on-the-ground when lockdowns occurred in 2020, allowing them to continue advising ranger patrols and supporting the impoverished people hardest hit by tourism shutdowns and economic devastation. Throughout the 2019 Annual Report, you’ll read stories of and from Panthera’s multinational and multicultural staff, people living where they work and often hailing from the communities co-existing with wild cats.
In 2019, Panthera and our partners warned the world about the dangers of the illegal wildlife trade and those who explicitly and implicitly condone it. Beyond mere words, with the support of the United States Department of State, we embedded researchers in four big cat trafficking hot spots to track cases, discover patterns and advise everyone, including government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and international bodies, on what is keeping us from winning the war on wildlife. As you’ll see in the pages of this report, we have already put some of these lessons into action:
Producing public service announcements in Spanish and Chinese on the illegality of the jaguar parts trade in Bolivia and Suriname;
Training airport workers to detect trafficked goods with x-rays in Bolivia;
Intensifying law enforcement patrols in key boundary areas of Zambia’s Kafue National Park;
Teaching effective checkpoint operations to rangers in Kyrgyzstan; and
Working with Malaysian prosecutors and judiciary members to promote stronger judicial actions against wildlife poachers and traffickers.
Finally, while we could not predict the collapse of eco-tourism, we knew that wild cats and the people who live in wild cat ranges needed support beyond what can be generated on a park-by-park basis by ecotourism. We still strongly believe ecotourism is an important tool for financially supporting protected areas and transforming wildlife from a livelihood-destroyer to a valued part of the community, but the pandemic has proven that it cannot be a be-all and end-all solution. While I will not claim that raising more money for cats is an innovative idea, we were indeed lucky to partner with two ambitious and forward-looking funders in 2019, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) and the Ayers Wild Cat Conservation Trust.
Even before the pandemic, these were two partners that understood the true scale of the threat facing wild cats and gave Panthera the funding and latitude necessary to truly confront it. I am hopeful that, in the wake of the pandemic, other funders will recognize the many connections between wildlife and human health and begin giving to wildlife conservation on par with other worthy causes. I also know that, given the number of strategic plans that had to be thrown out the window in March by organizations in all sectors, funders are beginning to act more like RCU and the Ayers Wild Cat Conservation Trust and trusting organizations with the flexibility to act more urgently on the many crises we are facing now (some of which were only made visible, not created, by the pandemic).
We themed the 2019 Annual Report around “Cores and Corridors” because we know that cats must be protected no matter where they are, whether cats are in protected “cores” or in the mostly unprotected “corridors” where they most often intersect with human communities. That theme is even more relevant today as protected areas face extreme budget shortfalls and cats venture more closely to locked-down communities.
I hope as you read this report, it doesn’t strike you as an artifact of the pre-pandemic past but instead as the first steps to a new conservation future.
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