The COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to assess the impacts of a global disturbance on conservation land uses and learn from responses to the crisis to enable more resilient conservation systems. To understand socio-economic responses of diverse wildlife working lands to COVID-19, we surveyed owners and managers of 78 private wildlife ranches (wildlife working lands), 23 agricultural farms (conventional working lands) and six public protected areas (conventional conservation lands) in South Africa. Most protected areas lost more than 75% of their revenues during 2020, while most agricultural farms lost less than 10%. The impact on wildlife ranches was more varied. 

Ranches with more diverse activities, particularly mixed wildlife–agriculture systems, lost less revenue, shifting their activities from those heavily impacted (international ecotourism, trophy hunting) to those less affected (for example, wildlife meat, livestock). This adaptive capacity suggests that wildlife-based enterprises could represent key ecosystem-based adaptations, providing lessons for integrated global policies that seek to incorporate private land models in the 2030 Global Biodiversity Framework.

Clements, H.S., Child, M.F., Lindeque, L. et al. Lessons from COVID-19 for wildlife ranching in a changing world. Nat Sustain 5, 1040–1048 (2022).