Research highlight

Conservation: Counting the costs of African elephant losses

Nature Communications

November 2, 2016

The loss of elephants across Africa could cost around US$25 million per year in lost tourism revenue, reports a modelling study published online in Nature Communications this week. The paper provides an important demonstration, at the continent scale, of the economic side-effects of elephant poaching.

A second major poaching crisis is underway in Africa, with elephant populations down by 30% from 2007 to 2014. Poaching can be expensive to effectively eliminate, but the economic gains from ecotourism could offset these anti-poaching costs, making protection of endangered wildlife a viable economic strategy.

Robin Naidoo and colleagues conduct a modelling effort to estimate the amount of tourist revenue gained “per elephant” at 216 protected areas across Africa. They find that tourists are more likely to visit protected areas when the parks contain numerous African elephants, with each elephant calculated to increase the number of tourist visits by 371%. The predicted lost revenue (around US$25 million per year) if elephant-related tourism declines is substantially more than the costs (calculated by other researchers) of implementing anti-poaching initiatives.

The benefits of elephant-related tourism exceed the anti-poaching costs in the savannah regions of east and southern Africa, but not for forested central Africa, where elephants are harder to observe and tourist revenue is less tightly linked to elephant abundance. The authors note that although the ivory trade brings in US$597 million annually, exceeding the calculated losses, elephant conservation and enhanced eco-tourism are still viable economic alternatives with benefits in local communities.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms13379

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