TED Conversations

Paula Kahumbu

CEO, WildlifeDirect

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How do we save African elephants from extinction?

African elephants are being slaughtered for their ivory as a surprising consequences of the rise of Asian economies. Symbolic of wealth and prestige, ivory was once only affordable for a few. Now with hundreds of millions of newly rich people in Asia, demand has outstripped supply and elephants are being killed at a rate that will drive them to extinction in less than 15 years.

African governments are unable to stop the poaching - the price of ivory is driving impunity, corruption and is now under control of criminal cartels.

How do we stop this? What will it take to reverse this trend? Do we need to change cultures? Appealing for compassion in China, Thailand, Philippines? Is it about law enforcement?

We need some bright ideas from TEDsters who love African animals and who know how to cause change in Asia


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  • Feb 28 2013: Since this an issue of sustainability, we should consider the economic, social, and environmental impacts of elephant poaching and what can be done to stop it. But I believe that the economic portion is largely in effect here, so I’ll predominantly address that.
    One of the main problems is that poachers are offered such huge sums of money to kill elephants for their tusks. To a poor man struggling to feed his family, the life of a single elephant is certainly worth being able to support his family. Thus, people have an economic incentive to poach elephants. This overcomes any idea of protecting the environment or cultural connection with the elephant.
    So how does one fight against such a strong incentive as money? I think we can turn this system around and use money as an incentive for saving the elephants. Tourism is a huge source of revenue for countries with big game populations. Tens of thousands of tourists per year visit countries to go on safaris and see the lion, the giraffe, and especially the majestic elephant in its natural habitat. But what happens when the elephant is extinct? Will people still pay thousands of dollars to see the empty plains? They will not. So in the long run, poaching is actually hurting the economies of these countries.
    I believe that spreading awareness of this idea is key in changing the mindset that poaching is a legitimate way of life. The governments should offer stakes in tourist businesses so locals can profit from them and not feel the need to poach. Local watchdog groups can be formed to identify potential poachers and stop it before it happens.
    There are many ways to help reduce poaching, but it won’t be done here. Work must be put in at the local level to spread awareness of the importance of the elephant, and show the people that is profitable to save the elephants.
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      Feb 28 2013: Greetings Mustafa, thank you for this very pracical approach. i have heard the economic argument and I guess I feel that it ignores the problems with globalization, and it also ignores spiritual values. What it also ignores history and the evidence that species have gone extinct due to over harvesting. We are working on a number of ideas to create whistle blowing facility so that anyone anywhere can report poachers, dealers, gangs etc, but this has to be combined with special teams to conduct investigations, prosecution and courts. Raising the funds to set this up is my challenge
      • Feb 28 2013: This is a very noble cause, and I respect what you're trying to do. Is there any way to allocate funds from tourist revenues towards elephant and overall wildlife conservation? If elephant poaching continues, tourist revenues will dry up and the government could lose money. Is that incentive enough for them to help fight poaching?

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