Elephant poaching is losing Africa millions of tourist dollars


Irene Banos Ruiz, DW

Date Published

Around 20,000 elephants are killed in Africa every year for their
tusks. This is not only bad news for the animals and their fans. It is
also costing the tourism sector millions of dollars, says conservation
group WWF.

The ivory trade is one of the main reasons why the elephant population
is in decline. Around 20,000 are killed by poachers in Africa every

Animal rights groups and environmental campaigners have been working
for years to find ways of halting the dramatic decrease in the number
of elephants.

Sustainable tourism is considered to be one of the main solutions,
providing an alternative source of income to people in elephant
regions. But the high prices still being paid for ivory on the black
market are keeping illegal poaching alive.

So if money is the reason for mass killings of elephants, could
dollars also provide an incentive to stop poaching?

This is what the World Wildlife Fund wanted to find out. The
environmental organization  conducted a study together with the
universities of Vermont and Cambridge on the financial impact of
illegal hunting on tourism.

The results were impressive: The African tourism sector loses around
$25 million every year due to elephant poaching alone.

“Poaching is not only an ecological catastrophe,” said Christoph
Heinrich, director of nature conservation at WWF Germany. “It also has
a substantial economic disadvantage.”

Tourism against poaching

Smuggling of wildlife is one of the world’s largest illegal
international trades, only exceeded by narcotics counterfeiting and
human trafficking.

This is key in understanding why it is so hard to combat elephant
poaching. But far too little attention is paid to the economic
benefits of elephant conservation. This motivated WWF to look at the
benefits poached elephants would have delivered to African countries
it they had stayed alive to attract tourism.

“Our results show these figures are substantial,” the study reads.

However, the study also highlights that the loss of $25 million pales
into insignificance when illegal trade is taken into account. The
annual value of ivory from poached African elephants on Chinese black
markets was estimated at $597 million between 2010 and 2012.

This clearly illustrates the economic challenge faced by elephant
conservation, the authors say.

Elephants in decline

In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
estimated that Africa’s overall elephant population consisted of
around 415,000, which represented the worst decline in 25 years.

According to the WWF study, the increase in poaching across the
African continent has reduced elephant populations by 60%. In Tanzania
and Mozambique alone, tens of thousands of elephants have been poached
over the last six years.

The surge in poaching for ivory began nearly ten years ago and has
been the worst Africa has experienced since the 1980s, said the IUCN.

Despite an international ivory trade ban in 1989 under the Convention
on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
(CITES), Asian markets still represent a major hub for ivory

Some researchers fear the recovery of  particular species of
elephants, such as Central Africa’s forest elephants, may take several
decades – if it ever happens.

In a hypothetical scenario, the researchers  compared the amount lost
to tourism through poaching with the money it would take to implement
anti-poaching methods to protect elephants across most African
savannah areas.

The cost of protecting the elephants would be far lower than the
losses caused by poaching. In most parts of the continent, the
recovered losses would exceed the investment necessary to end illegal

In many regions of western, southern and eastern Africa, the positive
effect on the economy would be comparable to the overall investment in
education or infrastructure.

This optimistic equation would unfortunately not apply to Central
Africa. On account of  a very poorly developed tourism sector and
badly weakened elephant populations, WWF regrettably admits that other
ways would have to be found to fund the fight against  poaching .

The conservation experts stress that poaching affects societies as a
whole, promoting violence and corruption as well as hindering the
economic development of entire regions.

The new economic argument could be the incentive needed to combat
poaching in a world where so much depends on money.