How Has The Animal Care & Conservation Sector Been Affected By COVID-19?
COVID-19 has changed life as we know it, affecting everything from home life to travel to politics. Work has been no exception, and the pandemic has brought with it tremendous uncertainty for advocates working for animals, whether they be in conservation, companion animal work, or other sectors. It’s something we’ve covered before with Faunalytics, and as the effects of the pandemic continue to unfold, it’s something we’ll continue to cover, as groups around the world conduct research on the effects of COVID and how those effects might be mitigated.
This particular survey was carried out between 2-16th April 2020 by Adisa, an independent consultancy working with charitable organizations. They received responses from 133 different organizations spanning the animal care and conservation sectors. These comprised of humane societies (which are often charities focused on companion animals), wildlife conservation charities and sanctuaries. In addition, the survey received 160 responses from zoos and aquariums, the results of which were reported separately as not all the questions were answered. Almost all the respondents for both groups were U.S.-based, with the budgets of zoos and aquariums generally being much higher than those of the humane or wildlife organizations.
Of those who responded, 95.2% of the humane societies were deemed ‘essential’ during the pandemic, in contrast to 63.9% of zoos and aquariums and 42.9% of those focused on wildlife conservation and sanctuaries. It isn’t clear what separates an essential organisation from a non-essential one working on the same issue. In general, the ‘essential’ label means that the organisation’s work is critical to a city’s infrastructure, or that the interruption of their services would endanger the life or safety of others. Essential services are considered more important to maintain during lockdown measures, which may have an impact on the amount of funding received by organizations deemed essential compared to those who aren’t.
The vast majority of all organizations anticipated either a severe or significant impact of COVID-19 on their finances, with only a small number of municipal organizations reporting that it hadn’t affected them at all. There wasn’t a strong correlation between budget size and perceived impact between organizations. In general, humane societies who did not currently have contracts to carry out services were most likely to report a significant impact, whereas zoos and aquariums made up most of the severe impact responses. Most of the zoo and aquarium respondents operate as nonprofits, with around a further 20% being run by the state. The severe impact they reported may indicate changes in donor or grant-making behaviour since COVID-19, which in turn may be linked to budget cuts and job losses throughout other sectors.
Within humane and wildlife organizations, 63.9% of respondents were able to avoid furloughing or laying off any of their staff. However, 18% had laid off between 11-50% of their team, and 7.5% of organizations had let go of more than half their workforce. These are drastic figures which show the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on the generally smaller charities focused on companion and wildlife animals. Zoos and aquariums did not answer the question enough to be reported. On the plus side, of those who had avoided laying off staff, 87.1% felt confident that they could maintain that 0% rate for at least another 30 days after the survey. A majority of all these organizations anticipated having to reduce their programs throughout the rest of the year, even with federal support.
A further question asked whether zoos and aquariums expected to have to revise their strategic plan or goals in 2020. Most of these facilities anticipated that significant revisions would be necessary, regardless of budget size. Participants were given the opportunity to comment, with one respondent expecting fundraising to be reduced by half. Another explained (perhaps in reference to the previous question on job losses) that, while no one had been laid off, hours had been cut for most positions.
A further comment anticipated that the biggest impact would be felt with field partners in Africa, who depend on tourism to keep their reserves open. Advocates will need to think carefully about whether these changes are positive or negative from an animal rights point of view, taking into account the potentially positive impact that these organizations have on local conservation efforts. There is also the plight of those animals who now represent an ongoing loss in profits. If the general policy will be to slaughter animals in order to reduce expenditure, as in the animal agriculture industries, then this is a timely area where advocates can raise public awareness on their situation.
What does this survey portend for animal advocates and advocacy? Humane societies continue to work with volunteers at higher rates than wildlife conservation charities and sanctuaries, while about half of conservation charities and sanctuaries are not engaging with volunteers at all. In general, organizations with larger budgets are better able to keep volunteers on board, with many working remotely. Smaller organizations might consider new ways to make use of voluntary work, which could bridge the gap caused by having to reduce staff hours. One respondent commented on the strategic opportunity presented by the pandemic, as they are now being forced to make changes to improve overall efficiency. However, it is difficult to find positives from the many adaptations that animal organizations have been required to make. Advocacy organizations should make sure that they have a strategy for making the most of voluntary offerings, while campaign efforts could perhaps focus on how we treat the animals who can no longer service our business needs.