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Impacts of COVID-19 on Biodiversity Conservation and Community Networks at Kibale National Park, Uganda

Conservation, like all aspects of society, was severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there have been projections and speculations about impacts on conservation plans and actions, data about the extent of these impacts are sparse. We contribute evidence from a research field site in Kibale National Park, Uganda. Our analysis shows that many of the fears concerning the negative conservation impacts of COVID-19 were borne out. Long-term research projects were disrupted, affecting employment opportunities in the park. These effects percolated into the local communities, which reported high levels of financial stress and other negative impacts, such as increased rates of teenage pregnancy. People who were permanently employed at the park reported lower levels of financial stress. Also particularly concerning was the increase in poaching in the park due to a lack of food security. This research highlights an important path toward resiliency for research stations in the face of global crises, but it requires changes in funding duration and scope from granting agencies and governments. Operating differently than ecotourism, research field stations provide unique opportunities to build resilient conservation instruments and the results of this research can help guide policies to make research field stations more resilient.