Wildlife Rescue Centers Struggle To Care For Their Animals Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Wildlife rescue centers around the world have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic as they often rely on public funding and volunteerism to care for their animals, reported The Guardian.

Merazonia, a wildlife center located in Ecuador, is one organization that fears not being able to properly care for its animals due to restrictive measures taken by the government. Louisa Baillie, a veterinarian for the center, says that Ecuador began restricting movement in the country to prevent the spread of the virus.

The rescue center currently contains 100 rescued animals confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade in South America and includes kinkajous, a puma, and capuchin, tamarin, and howler monkeys. Merazonia depends on fees paid by volunteer tourists, but with the country's borders closed, the funding won't hold out for long.

Another wildlife rescue center, The Centre for Orangutan Protection in Kalimantan, Indonesia, has temporarily shut down in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19.

Many Asian centers have seen their funding drop as visitor numbers plummet and volunteer tourists are prevented from crossing borders. Edwin Wiek runs Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand and is secretary-general of the Wild Animal Rescue Network, a group of wildlife rescue centers in Asia. Wiek commented that they had lost 80 percent of their funding since the coronavirus pandemic began.

A family of elephants protected by an elephant sanctuary in Bentota, Sri Lanka.
Getty Images | Frances M. Ginter

"We have over 700 animals – 25 elephants which require a lot of care and food, about 30 bears and 400 primates. If I can't find alternative income in about three months from now, I either need to open the cages and let the animals go, which I can't do, or I have to put them down. We're trying to do everything we can."
Wiek says the centers could survive for two to three months if he cuts 50 percent of his staff members. He is prohibited from procuring a bank loan because he runs a charitable organization and not a business.

Other centers have seen price spikes in medical equipment and medications due to widespread efforts to treat patients with the virus and control its spread. The increased cost of necessary supplies is draining their resources.

Animals Asia operates a rescue for moon bears rescued from farms that harvest bile from their gallbladders to use in traditional Chinese medicine. The center's vet team director Ryan Sucaet commented on the challenge of finding medication and medical masks after China implemented restrictive measures to control COVID-19.

"It's been very scary. At our sanctuary we have a really geriatric population of bears that are very reliant on pain relief. It was a challenge to get through those times. We'll never let the bears' welfare be compromised, but it came at a cost."
Sucaet says the center's main focus right now is to keep supplies stockpiled.

In addition to rescuing and caring for the bears, Animals Asia is a group dedicated to pushing the government to end the wildlife trade. Founder of the organization Jill Robinson is optimistic that the group's efforts will finally pay off.

"We are realizing we need to change our habits and our attitudes around the way that we live with wildlife, and our stewardship of wildlife."