Where the Environment and Business Collide

Delegates concluded their study tour to South Africa and Zambia with a visit to the Lilayi Elephant Nursery in Lusaka. Sponsored by Game Rangers International (GRI), the nursery rehabilitates baby elephants that have been injured or left orphaned due to elephant poaching. GRI works with the local community to show the value of environmental tourism and engages in interdisciplinary capacity building to help protect the endangered animals. Many in the local area haven’t always seen the value of these majestic animals as they can damage crops or hurt people, but GRI is finding mutually beneficial ways to interact with and encourage participation from the community in managing Zambia’s vital, internationally important ecosystems.

Baby elephants at Lilayi. Photo credit: Brigid Boettler/MSH.

Baby elephants at Lilayi. Photo credit: Brigid Boettler/MSH.

History of Poaching
Since the early 1900s, the demand for ivory has decimated the elephant population throughout Africa as ivory is seen as a coveted status symbol and some cultures consider it to have healing properties. In 1800, the elephant population numbered more than 26 million but by 1979, there were only 600,000 elephants left roaming the continent. While a 1989 international ban on ivory sales led to a rebound in the population and a decline in poaching, pressure from Asian and southern African nations led to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species sanctioning sales of ivory in 1999 and 2008. Since then, the elephant population has started to decline again as poachers continue to kill and demand from regions like Asia has led to a soaring price for ivory, even surpassing the price of gold. The animals’ slow reproduction rate cannot keep pace with the ivory demand and escalating poaching practices.

Although it had previously banned hunting elephants in 1982, Zambia permitted elephant hunting in four Game Management Areas (GMAs) from 2005 until 2013. The loosening of hunting regulations in GMAs combined with the recent upswing in poaching threatens the elephant population in Zambia.

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Orphaned elephants get their 11:30 feeding from their keepers at Lilayi. Photo credit: Cate Sadler/Delegate.

Negative Impacts of Poaching
Poaching has taken a staggering toll on the elephant population, environment, and economy of Zambia.  Tourism in Zambia focuses heavily on the country’s natural wonders, including its safaris and wealth of wildlife. As Zambia’s travel and tourism sector continues to grow, the rapid decline of the country’s elephant population will affect this rising economic sector as ecological tourism will decline with fewer and fewer elephants to see.

Poaching doesn’t just affect Zambian tourism and the elephants. Rangers, anti-poaching advocates, and wildlife conservation staff lose their lives every day across Africa, from Zambia to Sudan to Chad, as they work to protect elephants and other wildlife from poachers. Additionally, while it may seem harmless to all but the elephant to purchase ivory goods, the sales from these goods fund more than the poachers themselves. Militant groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Sudan’s janjaweed, garner income from poaching and reports have linked terrorist group al-Shabaab to poaching profits.

The experience of visiting Lilayi Elephant Nursery, hearing from GRI staff, and seeing the orphaned elephants firsthand reinforced the devastating and heart-breaking impacts of elephant poaching, both in Zambia and throughout Africa. Delegates were exposed to the dangers poaching not only poses to the elephants, but to local communities, game rangers, economies and global security. Thankfully, there are organizations like GRI who work tirelessly to protect the elephants and prevent poaching but more work is still needed to prevent these majestic animals from extinction.

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