National Parks, Elephants, and Sustainability

National parks are often seen from a western perspective as cool and exotic tourist locations that can bring about a sense of interconnectedness between the urban mind and the natural world. Unfortunately national parks are also the hunting grounds for many profitable underground poaching businesses, and the high demand that the regulatory system around poaching constructs is only further detrimental to the wildlife.

Earlier in September 2015, “Kenya’s then-President Daniel arap Moi ignited a pile of 12 tonnes of elephant tusks and helped change global policy on ivory exports. After that, the trade was banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This was a “desperate measure meant to send a message to the world about the destruction through poaching of Kenya’s elephants,” says Paul Udoto from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).””

However, this desperate measure generated only more dire consequences. The stockpiles of elephant tusks provided a large supply of possible product. When those tusks were burned supply lowered, and prices rose dramatically. Elephant tusks became even more desirable, and selling them became an even more profitable business.

14 other nations have also carried out similar acts of elephant tusk destruction, and these methods also include the more environmentally sustainable method of crushing the tusks instead. However, I’m not sure if those other countries and many environmental conservationists agree upon the ultimate effectiveness of their methods for preventing wildlife poaching and promoting sustainability in general.

Organization’s such as CAMPFIRE: (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources) are designed to support the local communities living near wildlife reserves as well as incentivize environmental protection within the communities as well. Although much of the funding for these programs does come out of the tourist culture that surrounds recreational hunting of elephants, lions, leopards, and other wildlife, “80% of the money is given directly to local communities who should collectively decide how it should be spent and 20% of the profit is used by the District Councils for administration and managing the local CAMPFIRE projects.”

However, CAMPFIRE is still under much public scrutiny, and there are many reasonable moral conflicts that people have about poaching wildlife, especially when it means the death of intelligent mammals such as lions and elephants. The unfortunate matter is that there is very little that is being done about environmental protection against illegal poaching and trade of rare animal products for commercial purposes. Bans on illegal poaching can do to persuade the black market to cease. It’s important to consider programs such as CAMPFIRE as viable environmental conservation options, especially if the alternative is to continue on the unsustainable trajectory we’ve been on for too long already.

Some national parks in Zimbabwe are being partially transformed into communally operated game reserves, and the thousands of dollars that they receive from tourist poachers are actually used to preserve the wildlife. For example, the Chifuti Hunting Safari offers a $15,000 trophy fee for poached elephants and uses the profit to build watering holes for other elephants, buy solar powered electric fences to encompass the reserve, irrigation repairs, new grinding mills, etc. Hunting safari’s also incentives less deforestation and in turn promotes saving the habitats of endangered species.

The elephant population in Zimbabwe has grown from 50,000 elephants in 1984 to 70,000 elephants today. Compared to Kenya’s elephant population, which has decreased from a population of 100,000 elephants to 20,000 within the same time frame.

For more information:

  • National Geographic:
  • CAMPFIRE Program:


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