Elephants continue to decline at unprecedented rates across the African continent due to the illegal killing of elephants for their ivory. However, in southern Africa many populations are stable or increasing. According to our new paper, this could be partly due to the benefits local people generate from nature-based tourism.
Together with Dr. Jeanetta Selier from the South African National Biodiversity Institute, and Prof. Rob Slotow from the University of KwaZulu-Natal we analyzed which factors affected elephant numbers in the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area, spanning South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, between 2007 and 2014.
We found that elephant numbers were limited by the increasing human population and expanding agricultural land, but were positively correlated with the increasing number of tourists visiting the country.
“Our results highlight that an increase in human population, coupled with the need to produce more food, will affect elephant numbers even more negatively in the future”, says Dr Selier.
“If this happens in southern Africa, where elephant populations are currently doing much better compared to the rest of the continent, then the picture is grim”, she continues.
“With the increasing demand for land for human settlement and agriculture, coordinated legislation and policies across national boundaries are needed to improve long term land use planning. This will ensure the survival of the elephant”, says Prof. Rob Slotow.
“Local communities often pay the costs of elephant conservation without tangible benefits. Making sure the benefits generated from nature-based tourism, such as ecotourism safaris, are shared with communities whom co-exist with elephants remains crucial to ensure the long-term persistence of this iconic species”, Dr. Di Minin says.