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Elephant poaching killing African tourism

Press AssociationPress Association 20/11/2016 John von Radowitz

Elephant poaching is costing African countries an estimated STG20 million ($A33.5 million) in lost tourism revenue each year, a study has found.

Investing in elephant conservation makes good economic sense across most of the regions where the animals live, say experts.

It is the first time scientists have carried out a continent-wide assessment of the impact of elephant poaching on tourism.

Lead author Dr Robin Naidoo, from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said: "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."

Each year poachers kill between 20,000 and 30,000 African elephants to satisfy the demand for ivory in China and other Asian countries.

In just the last 10 years, Africa has lost a fifth of its elephants to the illegal trade. The continent's elephant population has crashed by around 111,000 in the past decade, primarily as a result of poaching.

There are now thought to be 415,000 surviving animals across the 37 African states whose territory includes elephant habitat.

The research shows that tourism revenue lost because of poaching exceeds the anti-poaching costs necessary to halt the decline of elephants in East, South and West Africa.

Each year, poaching costs around $US25 million ($A34 million), the scientists reported in the journal Nature Communications.

US economist Dr Brendan Fisher, a member of the team from the University of Vermont, said: "The average rate of return on elephant conservation ... compares favourably with rates of return on investments in areas like education, food security and electricity.

"For example, for every dollar invested in protecting elephants in East Africa, you get about 1.78 dollars back. That's a great deal."

British co-author Professor Andrew Balmford, from Cambridge University's Department of Zoology, added: "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."

The one exception to the study's findings was the remote forested regions of Central Africa, where tourism levels were much lower and elephants typically more difficult to see.

In this part of Africa, different solutions would have been found to save the elephant, said the researchers.

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