THE IVORY CRISIS
Tanzania — best known for its snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, numerous national parks and game reserves, and the famous annual wildebeest migration — is home to a vast array of wildlife. The country has dedicated thousands of square kilometers (over 20% of its land) to protect this natural heritage: Tanzania boasts 16 national parks — including Ruaha, Serengeti and Tarangire — the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and 17 game reserves, including the Selous. Yet despite ongoing conservation efforts, the country is now poised to lose one of its most recognized and valued resources: the African elephant.
Growing affluence in Asia has produced a new class of ivory consumers who have reignited demand and stimulated the illegal ivory trade, resulting in an escalating poaching crisis. A study published in July 2014 found that more than 100,000 elephants were illegally killed in Africa between 2010 and 2012 — ~33,630 each year. The African forest elephant in particular has suffered a drastic decline in its population: In February 2014, scientists announced that 65% of forest elephants were poached between 2002 and 2013, leaving 95% of the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo devoid of elephants. Home to one of the largest concentrations of African elephants on the continent, Tanzania has emerged as a poaching hotspot. A recent report suggests that Tanzania is “the largest source of poached ivory in the world.” Between 2009 and 2011, “Tanzania was the country of export for 37% of large ivory seizures.” Domestically, the country seized nearly 20 tons of ivory between 2010 and 2013. A single elephant can generate USD1.6 million in tourism revenue if left to live out its normal lifespan, while its ivory is only worth an estimated USD2,800 to a local trader and even less to a poacher. In Ruaha National Park, villagers have been offered the equivalent of USD10 per tusk.
Tourism comprised 13% of Tanzania’s GDP in 2013, valued at USD3.7 billion and 12% in 2014, at USD4.1 billion. Travel and tourism generated 402,500 jobs (or up to about 1.2 million including transportation and other services) in the country that year. Given the average household size of 4.8 people, this means that almost 2 million people (or, more than 5 million people) were supported by tourism in 2013.
As keystone species, elephants also play a critical role in maintaining the health of ecosystems. They dig waterholes that sustain other animals and humans; they clear the landscape of trees and thorny bushes, creating grasslands for use by grazing species; their dung acts as a fertilizer, providing nutrients to the soil; they disperse seeds and at times their digestive system is the sole defining factor as to whether a seed will germinate. Without elephants, biodiversity and the health of ecosystems would be impoverished...