Encouraging Ecotourism, Not Big-Game Hunting, Could Help Elephant Conservation

November 22, 2017
Contact:

Tim Lucas, (919) 613-8084, tdlucas@duke.edu

DURHAM, N.C. – As the Trump administration reconsiders lifting the ban that would allow the import of elephant remains into the U.S. as hunting trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, a Duke University professor proposes that resources could be better used in promoting ecotourism and other options to help the conservation of African elephants.

John Poulsen, assistant professor of tropical ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said that investing in anti-poaching measures, research and the conservation of national parks in Africa would have a bigger impact than the policy change, which was announced last week before it was put on hold to “review all conservation facts.”

Working with African governments and industry leaders to promote ecotourism, especially in Central Africa, could also have positive effect on the elephant population.

“If you’re thinking from an economic and development standpoint, which is a good idea for African countries that need development and need revenue, really there’s lot more money earned from ecotourism than there ever will be from a handful of people that are doing this big-game hunting,” said Poulsen.

He said he doesn’t support the idea that the money raised from hunting permits would do anything to conserve the species or that it will have a direct effect in elephant populations in Africa.

“What it does do, however, is it really blurs the optics,” said Poulsen. “It makes it look, for example, like the U.S. is open to the killing of elephants, the poaching of elephants. It makes the U.S. look like it’s not as strong in its conservation of elephants as other countries, like China.”

Earlier this year, conservationists celebrated China’s prohibition on the sale of ivory within its borders.

“Just when you think all these good things are happening, you get a setback like this,” Poulsen said.

In February, Poulsen released a study showing that populations in one of Central Africa’s largest and most important preserves declined between 78 percent and 81 percent because of poaching.

“This is really a crisis for elephants,” said Poulsen. “There are 96 elephants being killed each day and the poaching just keeps on going.”

President Trump tweeted Sunday that the trophy decision will be announced next week.

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