A new study has revealed that the poaching of African Elephants is costing countries $25 million per year in lost tourism revenue. Unsurprisingly, the loss of around 20,000 to 30,000 of these intelligent, docile mammals every year is making travelers wonder if heading all the way to countries like Tanzania will be worth their hard-earned cash.
Writing in Nature Communications, the researchers at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and from the Universities of Vermont and Cambridge note that their work represents the first continent-wide assessment of the economic losses brought about by the recent surge in poaching. This economic drain is far greater than the cost it takes to protect these elephants, which is estimated to be just $565 per square kilometer per year.
“While there have always been strong moral and ethical reasons for conserving elephants, not everyone shares this viewpoint,” lead author Dr Robin Naidoo, a wildlife scientist at WWF, said in a statement. “Our research now shows that investing in elephant conservation is actually smart economic policy for many African countries.”
Disturbingly, the illegal ivory trade has tripled in size since 1998. As a result, Africa’s elephants have declined by more than 20 percent in the last decade alone. The African Elephant is listed at “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but the burgeoning ivory trade – boosted by increasingly well-funded criminal enterprises – threatens to make them “endangered”.
This downward spiral pairs up with another recent study, which concluded that by 2020 the global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles will have declined by 67 percent compared to 1970 levels.
Depressing as it may be, the idea that a complex phenomenon will lighten their wallets tends to provoke a more visceral reaction in people than any melancholy story describing its negative effect on the natural world. Consequently, more research is beginning to highlight the economic downsides of trashing the environment.
It was recently pointed out that climate change is set to cost the US $2 trillion by 2030, and China and India will lose $450 billion each. It makes good economic sense, then, to tend towards a low-carbon infrastructure. Ditching fossil fuels will save you money in the long term.
Similarly, investing plenty of resources in preventing poachers from continuing their repugnant trade will also prevent the economies of plenty of nations from leaking cash. In fact, it would actually help them make money.
“For every dollar invested in protecting elephants in East Africa, you get about $1.78 back,” notes co-author Dr Brendan Fisher, an economist at the University of Vermont. “That's a great deal.”
For both moral and environmental reasons, fighting against poachers is the right thing to do, but hey – people afraid of losing money tend to work extremely hard at finding solutions.