The African elephant poaching crisis is not only bad for elephants, it’s bad for tourism, according to a new study.
Writing in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from the University of Vermont, the World Wildlife Fund and the University of Cambridge say poaching the majestic beasts costs African countries about $25 million in tourism revenue.
"While there have always been strong moral and ethical reasons for conserving elephants, not everyone shares this viewpoint. Our research now shows that investing in elephant conservation is actually smart economic policy for many African countries," said Dr. Robin Naidoo, lead wildlife scientist at WWF and lead author on the study.
According to the researchers, this is the “first continent-wide assessment of the economic losses the current elephant poaching surge is inflicting on nature-based tourism economies in Africa.”
Anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 African elephants are killed each year to feed the illegal ivory trade, which is fueled predominantly by demand in China. Elephant populations in the region have declined by more than 20 percent during the past 10 years.
"We know that within parks, tourism suffers when elephant poaching ramps up. This work provides a first estimate of the scale of that loss, and shows pretty convincingly that stronger conservation efforts usually make sound economic sense even when looking at just this one benefit stream," said study co-author Professor Andrew Balmford, from the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology.
The study also showed the revenue lost from poaching “exceeds the anti-poaching costs necessary to stop the decline” in elephant populations.
Researchers say the return on investment with conservation is “positive.”
"The average rate of return on elephant conservation in east, west, and south Africa compares favorably with rates of return on investments in areas like education, food security and electricity," said Dr. Brendan Fisher, an economist at University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. "For example, for every dollar invested in protecting elephants in East Africa, you get about $1.78 back. That's a great deal."
Researchers cautioned the same return on investment is not seen in central Africa because of the denser foliage, which makes it harder for would-be tourists to see wildlife.