Live elephants are significantly more valuable than the ivory they are being killed for, according to a new analysis produced by the iWorry campaign.
The report, Dead or Alive: Valuing an Elephant, provides a dollar value for an elephant’s lifetime in the context of its native country’s economy, measuring it against the limited financial gains its death brings to a foreign dealer. Like several reports released earlier this year, it explores the financial and criminal costs of allowing illicit poaching to continue on the African continent.
In July, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) reported that elephant poaching has been on the rise since the mid-2000s. CITES was instrumental in banning the international ivory trade in 1989, and though their efforts eliminated major ivory markets, they also resulted in a boom in ivory prices. A threefold increase in ivory’s black market value motivated the deaths of an estimated 20,000 elephants in 2013, according to CITES’ calculations.
“The consumer markets, like China and Thailand, have more disposable income and more wealth than they did back in the 1980s, and higher prices are now being sought for ivory products,” says Leigh Henry, senior policy advisor of wildlife conservation and advocacy for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Washington. “So now we’re seeing international criminal gangs coming in and poaching.”
About 17.8 metric tons of illegal ivory was seized between January and August 2014, iWorry states, which constitutes only an estimated 10 percent of all contraband that developed countries actually intercept. The ivory that has been collected suggests more than 19,000 elephants have been killed this year.
The report fixes a $21,000 price tag on a dead elephant’s ivory. Live elephants, meanwhile, are worth about $1.6 million over their lifetime, mainly due to the tourism they generate – with revenues coming from travel companies, airlines and the services of local economies.
“The value of elephant tourism is extremely high, with a living elephant worth a shocking 76 times more alive in the savannah than in the market place,” iWorry campaign director Rob Brandford told Mongabay. “Protecting Africa’s elephants makes monetary sense and in the long term elephants are worth more alive roaming the world’s savannah and forests than their tusks are sitting on a mantle. That’s a powerful argument to convince policy makers.”
A single, living elephant can contribute $22,966 to tourism per year, according to the report. The poaching of 19,400 elephants amounts to an overall economic loss of $44.5 million.
In the 1930s, there were an estimated three to five million elephants in Africa. By the 1980s, that population was cut in half.
Professor Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington has predicted that if current poaching rates continue, large groups of elephants will be extinct by 2020. Chad is coming dangerously close to this precipice; between 1970 and 2006, its elephant population has declined by over 97 percent.
“In order to secure the long term future of the species, it is vital Governments understand the tangible benefits elephants can bring,” says Brandford. “Given the overlap of ivory poaching locations and elephant tourism operations, every elephant killed makes these regions much less profitable.”
The iWorry campaign was created by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) to raise awareness of the threats facing the survival of Africa’s elephants and push governments “to make the illicit ivory trade and wildlife crime a priority issue.”