Tourism in Africa loses R343-million per year through elephant poaching

African countries with elephant populations are losing R343-million a year through poaching, according to new research. This is the direct cost of lost income from tourism.

That is according to new research published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications. Titled Estimated economic losses to tourism in Africa from the illegal killing of elephants, it looked at tourist visits to protected areas and at how these had declined as poaching increased. Some 100 000 elephant are thought to have been killed on the continent in the last decade. But accurate numbers are impossible to come by because there are no numbers on the total number of elephant on the continent.

The researchers, from the World Wide Fund for Nature and several universities, said: “Across Africa the annual, direct economic losses due to elephant poaching run to a mean of $9.1-million (R122-million).” Indirect costs – in losses to the people and industries that support tourism – run to $16.4-million (R221-million).

Four elephants are killed every hour on the continent – but researchers said this cost is dwarfed by the profits being made by poachers. It said that ivory sales were worth R8-billion a year on Chinese black markets.

That profit means the costs to conserve elephant are high. But the researchers concluded that these costs are less than the income that would be generated from tourism, if elephant are kept alive.

To get to that conclusion, the team looked at the costs of halting elephant poaching across the continent. On average, this ran to the tune of nearly R8 000 a square kilometre. For that much money, poaching could be almost halted in the 58 protected areas that have over 1 000 elephant.

The research said: “Tourist’s willingness to pay is sufficient to offset the increased costs necessary to safeguard elephant populations.”

But the numbers do not work for elephant in the heavily forested areas of central Africa. These have the fewest tourists, but the highest rate of poaching. Two-thirds of the continental cost for stopping poaching would have to be spent here. The cost of saving elephant would be 100% more than the income they generate through tourism.

For these elephant populations, the researchers say their survival depends on “public concern” and their “existence value”.

The case is much better for the rest of the continent. In southern Africa, tourism from elephants would generate 54% more income than the cost of keeping them alive. That ratio is even better in eastern and western Africa. “The lost benefit exceeds the anti-poaching costs necessary to stop elephant declines across the continent’s savannah areas.”

Saving Africa’s elephants make economic sense.

We make it make sense

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is a former acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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