The Tragedy of the Elephants

43 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2017 Last revised: 3 Mar 2020

See all articles by Branden Jung

Branden Jung

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Date Written: November 1, 2017


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) attempts to protect African elephants by banning nearly all international trade in ivory. Despite decades of this strict regulatory approach, poachers rapaciously kill thousands of elephants each year due to an economic phenomenon known as the tragedy of the commons. Although government regulation of an open-access resource is a recognized means of resolving a common’s dilemma, this approach fails when the resource’s stakeholders have little incentive to enforce or comply with such regulation. CITES has clung to Western perspectives of the elephant even though the primary consuming and producing states of ivory are in Africa and East Asia. The West sees the very consumption of ivory as archaic and inhumane. However, many in Africa and East Asia see those values as alien and imperialistic. These peoples have few incentives to follow centralized conservation policies embedded with cultural imperialism. CITES needs a radical new approach to save the African elephant. CITES should lift the international ban on the ivory trade and promote community and private property rights in African elephants to ensure the species' survival. This approach could simultaneously save the African elephant and satisfy the needs and desires of local peoples. This Article demonstrates that this approach is ethically justifiable from rights and utilitarian based systems of animal ethics.

Keywords: ivory trade, CITES, international law, economics, animal welfare, wildlife policy

JEL Classification: Q

Suggested Citation

Jung, Branden, The Tragedy of the Elephants (November 1, 2017). Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2017, No. 4, 2017, Available at SSRN:

Branden Jung (Contact Author)

University of Nevada, Las Vegas ( email )

4505 S. Maryland Parkway
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States

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