Could a Legal Ivory Trade Reverse Present Declines in Elephant Populations in Africa? Predictions from an Engineer's Population Simulation Model
35 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2016 Last revised: 27 Mar 2017
Date Written: March 27, 2017
As the Seventeenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES draws closer, there has been a spate of papers from economists and modellers purporting to show that any attempts at resuscitating a legal trade in ivory are too risky to attempt.
This paper uses a hybrid model grounded in the biological characteristics and population dynamics of elephants. It begins with an examination of the funding needed to protect elephants. This funding requirement applies as much to a State attempting to protect elephants in a national park as it does to a local community trying to protected elephants in a communal land. It explores the extent to which elephant populations can sustain illegal hunting in the absence of funding and then tests the effects of feeding back a proportion of the return from legal trade in ivory to mitigate the degree of illegal hunting. This legal trade is derived entirely from natural mortality ivory and a low level of problem animal control ivory. It does not include any harvesting of the sort naïvely put forward by Lusseau & Lee (2016).
The results indicate that population declines resulting from illegal hunting levels up to 10% of the population can easily be reversed by the feedback of a proportion of the funds available from a legal trade in ivory. The higher the proportion the shorter is the recovery period. Without this feedback an illegal hunting level of 10% of the population results in a population half-life of 13 years. The response time of an elephant population to any change in its management regime can be very long. The value in this modelling is that it shows the response times for any particular scenario.
The algorithm for the feedback mechanism is empirically derived. Its performance needs to be seen as part of the hypothesis to be evaluated under an adaptive management approach. It provides the starting point for action and should be modified as and when it is seen that it does not adequately describe the process.
The CITES ban on legal ivory and demand reduction programmes act against the objective of mobilising significant funds to bring about population recovery. The effect is not merely neutral – it will cause the demise of elephant populations.
Keywords: Ivory, CITES, Feedback
JEL Classification: C32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation