Virtual Volunteer Trip Protects Wildlife during COVID
Updated: Aug 22, 2020
Due to COVID, wildlife reserves face severe financial strain, with the loss of tourism revenue and the cancellation of planned volunteer conservation trips to South Africa. Reclaimed Earth and Wild Tomorrow Fund partnered to create an innovative Virtual Volunteer Trip to help raise awareness and funding during this unprecedented time.
Once a year Reclaimed Earth hosts a trip to South Africa, that allows for volunteers to participate in a variety of conservation activities in the field, in person. Standing in our commitment to continue to create that opportunity, despite the travel ban, we arranged the next best thing: a chance for volunteers from all around the world to join us virtually in the field to contribute to and learn about conservation.
The week-long trip was scheduled from August 17th to the 22nd with two daily interactive sessions (morning and afternoon), each designed to transport volunteers from their homes to the wild spaces of South Africa and South Florida. Approximately 100 volunteers from around the world including Australia, South Africa, El Salvador, and across the United States joined virtually alongside field conservationists, experts and rangers. Volunteers could join the full week or choose the experiences that most interested them.
Each ticket ($25 per session or $250 for the full week) was a donation that directly funds conservation in the field, specifically some of the projects the volunteers learned about and experienced, including supporting rescued elephants, rhino orphans, the persecution of wildlife trafficking and more.
The main event occurs on the final day of the volunteer trip, Saturday August 22nd. The volunteers will have the unique opportunity to truly be transported to Manyoni Private Game Reserve for a virtual day of rhino dehorning. The immersive 360 degree experience was filmed by wildlife filmmakers HabitatXR, known best for 3D mountain gorillas experience for Ellen DeGeneres’ wildlife foundation, The Ellen Fund. By participating in the experience, the volunteers directly financed the rhino’s protection. Without this trip and the funds raised, these rhinos would not have been able to be dehorned and would be at higher risk of poaching.
It is the poaching of rhinos to supply the illegal international rhino horn trade that remains the main threat to the two species. The African rhinos dehorned at Manyoni Private Reserve were 5 White Rhinos and 2 Critically Endangered Black Rhino. More than 80% of African rhinos that remain in the world are in South Africa, making it a hotspot for rhino poaching. The value of rhino horn on the black market is said to be as high as $65,000 per kilogram, making it one of the most expensive commodities in the world, carrying an illegal price tag higher than cocaine or gold. This irrational value is what has put the species at the tipping point. Dehorning is just one of the strategies in the rhino anti-poaching toolkit. It involves the humane removal of the horn to deter poachers from even entering the reserve. The horn will regrow and the process must be repeated every 18-24 months. Without paying guests, many wildlife reserves like Manyoni Private Game Reserve in South Africa, have been unable to fund necessary conservation work, such as dehornings.
“Dehorning a rhino costs a lot of money, we did not have the funds to dehorn a single rhino for three months. Rhino horn grows back and we need to dehorn one rhino a week on average in order to stay ahead of horn growth and the resulting increase in poaching risk. We were able to make a significant amount of time back with the funding from the virtual trip and dehorning seven rhino in one day.”
— DANE ANTROBUS, WILDLIFE COORDINATOR AT MANYONI PRIVATE GAME RESERVE