Last November it again became okay to bring elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia into the U.S. In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service extended the decision to other African countries and animals.
Did the U.S. increase the incentive to endanger threatened species?
Wildlife Conservation Incentives
To support wildlife conservation, Africa has experimented with different programs,
The CAMPFIRE Program
Zimbabwe figured that local communities had to support wildlife conservation. But the opposite was true because elephants and other animals threatened their crops, their livestock, and their safety. So almost 30 years ago they created CAMPFIRE through which local communities got the use-rights to wildlife. It led to partnerships with hunting groups, much-needed village revenue, and the incentive to increase wildlife populations. With new incentives, in CAMPFIRE areas, the elephant population doubled.
The U.S. Ban
When the Obama administration banned elephant trophies (heads, tusks, other body parts) from Zimbabwe, they reported a 30% decline in safari hunting. But there were reports of a 5-fold increase in poaching activity. With less revenue, the villagers cared less about wildlife preservation. Also, the funding for anti-poaching enforcement dropped.
Our Bottom Line: The Tragedy of the Commons
Whether it’s air pollution, an overgrazed pasture, or poached elephant ivory, we tend to abuse shared resources. People ignore what they destroy because they privately benefit from their behavior. The result is a tragedy of the commons.
CAMPFIRE is an attempt to solve the tragedy of the commons. So too are the community conservancies in Namibia and Mozambique’s privately funded Coutadas. The common thread is the benefit that villagers receive from hunting revenue and shared meat. By shifting wildlife from a public resource to one with private benefit, African countries have created the incentive to conserve.
They’ve also shown how sometimes a market can beat a ban.
My sources and more: I always look forward to Monday for the new Econtalk podcast. Yesterday’s discussion, a good listen, focused on wildlife conservation. It led me to the tension between market-based wildlife hunting and the Zimbabwe ban.
Please note that President Trump’s position on the trophy ban has become unclear.