New study on World Elephant Day


By Andreas Wilson-Späth, Independent, Conservation Action Trust

Date Published

Cape Town – A new economic analysis concludes that the most effective way to ensure the survival of Africa’s elephant populations threatened by rampant poaching is not to legalise the international trade in ivory, but to ramp up demand reduction programmes and improve poaching prevention strategies, followed by a ban on domestic ivory trading.

In a paper produced for the South African Institute of International Affairs [], Ross Harvey reviews the economic literature on elephant conservation and uses game theory to assess how scarce resources should be allocated to most effectively protect the species.

He concludes that conservation agencies should direct most of their available capital and effort into two areas: immediately and simultaneously reducing the demand for ivory in Asian consumer countries and improving strategies to prevent poaching in Africa.

Harvey argues that legalising the international trade in ivory would potentially drive up prices and increase poaching by stimulating demand and removing the stigma effect which currently stops many potential consumers from buying ivory products.

Demand reduction programmes must go beyond simplistic consumer awareness campaigns and should especially target two important sectors of the Asian market – those consumers who buy ivory as an inflation-proof form of investment and those who purchase it as a status symbol.

Harvey suggests that elephant range states across Africa should further support demand reduction efforts by destroying their stockpiles of ivory to send an unambiguous message to the market that the legal trade in ivory is over for good.

The game theory model highlights the benefits of reinforcing anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts in Africa without delay. Particular attention should be paid to new technologies, including aerial surveillance by drones, sophisticated remote sensing equipment and satellite tracking.

Following an effective reduction in ivory demand and elephant poaching, Harvey proposes that a ban on the domestic trade in ivory, “especially in the largest consumer markets, is a necessary component of the strategy to secure elephants’ future”.

This would raise costs for ivory traders and consumers and reduce the laundering of illicit elephant ivory into legal domestic markets. A prohibition on domestic trade would also reinforce the stigma effect discouraging people from buying ivory and it would make law enforcement easier since there would be no distinction between legal and illegal ivory – all of it being illegal.