|Most elephants at the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury, Laos, were rescued from the logging or tourism industry.|
- Mark Johanson
The Bolivian eco-warrior had just had success creating what the Wildlife Conservation Society believes is the most biodiverse protected area on the planet, the nearby Madidi National Park, but her vocal criticism of Madidi's protections under government control got her kicked out. Undeterred, she set up her own private park upriver and named it Serere after a gangly bird with a blue face and punk rock hair.
Fast-forward to early 2020, and Serere Eco-Reserve was home to more than 300 species of birds and some of South America's most elusive mammals, including dwarf leopards, night monkeys, jaguars, tapirs and giant anteaters. The revival of this small swath of the Amazon was made possible thanks to the support of foreign eco-tourists who paid around $100 a day for all-inclusive overnight stays filled with hiking, conservation lessons and family-style meals sourced from the onsite garden.
Then, of course, the pandemic hit, and Serere hasn't welcomed a single visitor since March 23. With no incoming funds, and little in the way of savings, Ruiz had to cut staff from 40 to just seven rangers who've already chased off poachers and seen around 7 acres of forest pillaged for lumber (a trend echoed across the Amazon Basin).
"We can't keep going at the rate we are now without further support," she says, noting a GoFundMe campaign created to tackle the emergency. "It's evident that if we don't have a presence and protection in Serere, especially because of the economic crisis everyone's living now, then those who are hard-up will continue cutting down the trees and selling lumber for easy money."
It's a predicament faced by highly respected conservation projects across the developing world, who have spent much of 2020 navigating the new reality of trying to protect wild animals while dealing with the fiscal fallout of Covid-19.
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