Poachers seeking big payoffs are killing African elephants in order to sell their ivory tusks, but according to a new study, the living and breathing animal itself is actually much more valuable.
A study by the David Sheldrik Wildlife Trust states that elephants are worth 76 times more while alive rather than dead. An elephant’s ivory can sell on the black market for $21,000, but a living elephant can provide $1.6 million in tourism business.
Entitled “Dead or Alive? Valuing an Elephant,” the report collected data from the first eight months of 2014. It measured shipments of ivory from 1,940 elephants seized worldwide during that time—worth more than $37 million. The report then ran it against the income of ecotourism camps, safaris and photography tours in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and South Africa.
It found that elephant tourism brings in $23,000 per elephant per year, or a total of $1.6 million over an elephant’s natural lifespan.
Since the ivory of 1,940 elephants was seized during the reports’ time frame, it means the ivory also represented $445 million in lost tourism revenue.
The study contends that while elephants are invaluable to the environment, putting a financial figure on them brings a new face to the poaching problem. Rob Bradford, a member of the David Sheldrik Wildlife Trust said:
Protecting elephants makes economic sense. Whether you’re responsible for a reserve in Tanzania or a national park in Kenya—if elephants live, tourists will come and economies can be boosted.”
While elephant tourism is not possible for every elephant in Africa, the Sheldrik Wildlife Trust say it offers a hopeful alternative for a considerable portion of the population. And for those not usually inspired by green issues, the promise of greenbacks might be just the incentive they need to keep elephants alive.