Conservation & Elephant Hunting
by Dr. Bill Morrill
The African elephant is a natural resource that lends itself to assignable ownership and that ownership, couples with benefits produced from hunting, provides an incentive for
conservation. There are other uses of the African elephant, both legal and illegal, but the purpose of this article is conservation and elephant hunting.
Regulation has often been utilized as the final solution to conservation problems. In fact, conservation rarely directly results from unqualified regulation, because regulation restricts or removes ownership. Appropriate regulation limits use, but sets the boundaries for the implementation of management practices at the appropriate levels. That is why the victory for the elephant at the 1997 CITES Meeting in Harare was so significant; it did not preclude applied management; it made it a requirement.
Hunting of the African elephant by foreign tourists has a long-standing tradition and is one of the uses of choice by many African nations today. Africans were hunting elephants before Eastern peoples or Europeans arrived in Africa. Elephant hunting by foreigners generates both finances for management and with the emphasis on local people in management, it has increasingly begun to provide incentives to the people living with the wildlife.
We conserve only what we have incentives to conserve. Wildlife has three economic values. Legal value is the value assigned with regulated use. Illegal value would be the use outside of laws or regulation (for instance, poaching). No value means that the resource will effectively be ignored. Sadly, most evaluations of use focus on the negative impact of the use (the faulty precautionary principle), ignoring the impact of not using the resource. Any real evaluation must include those costs to the resource of not using it. Conservation practices require funding, and that funding must come from somewhere, to turn from a use providing benefits must be factored into any evaluation as a very real cost.
Elephant management requires determining the appropriate level of sustainable off take, and that management requires funding. With increased value of any resource, comes a responsibility, and more likely an imperative need for increased level of management. But conservation cannot (more appropriately put, will not) be perpetually performed in a financial vacuum. In a word beset by many demands for land, if a species is to survive, a use which can be sustained both economically and ecologically, provides independence that will favor survival in the most tumultuous of times.
Hunting of elephants by tourists is cost effective, profitable and easily monitored. The foreign hunter pays for all participation in the hunt, including government fees, and for taking the natural resource. A government representative is usually present. Animals are taken under a quota. The stakeholders in such an arrangement include the hunter, the professional hunter (guide), the regulatory agency (National Parks or Wildlife) and the people who live with the elephants (the community).
Imaginative approaches are being implemented in the different hunting countries such as Zimbabwe's CAMPFIRE communities collecting data and setting their own harvest quotas. In South Africa, many ranches have their own herds of elephants. Other countries such as Cameroon, Botswana and Tanzania are implementing programs where hunting benefits communities. Tying in the management to those who benefit provides an appropriate monitoring loop in management.
In conservation, as in governmental structure, centralization reduces effectiveness. Since all ecological and economic systems are dynamic, good conservation is the ability of the management to adapt to that change. Local monitoring with the control to adapt to that change decreases response time. This results in a more appropriate level of adaptive management.
The elephant is a natural resource with assignable ownership. Foreign hunters are willing to convert that from an asset to capital in exchange for a cultural experience compatible with the history and use of the elephant. It is the responsibility of the hunter to demand an ethical experience and the professional hunter to provide such an experience. It is the responsibility of those charged with management to maintain the resource. It is the responsibility of the regulatory agencies, while maintaining appropriate boundaries, to minimize their restriction of management options for any dynamic resource.
International hunting of elephants will continue to be a realistic option for sustainable utilization. Under well managed conditions, it provides economic incentive for continued proper management, and this insures the survival of the elephant. And that by definition is conservation - the wise use of natural resources.