Sale of Elephant Meat Increases Threat to Elephants in Central Africa

28 February 2012 | News story

Elephant meat in Central Africa has an earning potential that could exceed that of ivory according to a new report by the IUCN SSC African Elephant Specialist Group and the CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme. To prevent a future increase in elephant poaching, consumer demand for elephant products must be reduced and law enforcement efforts should be focused on those who commission and fund the elephant hunting parties.

An investigation into the dynamics, scale and impact of the trade in elephant meat in four Congo Basin countries has revealed that the demand for elephant meat is higher than previously expected. The demand for elephant meat outstrips supply and the perception in cities that this meat is prestigious causes the price of elephant meat to be greater than most other meats. This demand and high earning potential gives hunters a great incentive to poach elephants for more than just their tusks.

Fortunately, due to the fear of being caught with illegal elephant products, the maximum value of an elephant carcass is not achieved by the hunters. Often, only the tusks and a small amount of meat are taken, but the potential value of meat can far exceed that of ivory. The meat from an adult male could earn a hunting party up to US$5,000, a price that could only be achieved by very large tusks. Potentially, the carcass of a single adult elephant with large tusks could earn a hunting group over US$10,000. Any relaxation in the enforcement of legislation would provide greater opportunities to hunters and increase the frequency of poaching.

The report also revealed the importance of commanditaires in the hunting of elephants. Commanditaires are usually influential people in the government, military or business that provide the equipment, money and often, weapons to an elephant hunting party. The primary aim of these hunting parties is to collect ivory, which the commanditaires will sell on. Without these wealthy people funding the hunting parties, fewer elephants would be poached.

The main reasons for elephant poaching given by those who participate in hunting were lack of law enforcement and poverty. Therefore the recommendations made by the report address these issues. In particular, law enforcement efforts should be concentrated on the commanditaires who initiate and support the hunting groups, as without these people many hunts would not occur. Additionally poor hunters who are employed by the commanditaires need alternative livelihoods or training opportunities to reduce the incentive to hunt.

However, ultimately it is the demand for ivory and elephant meat that is driving the killing of elephants. If consumer demand can be reduced, or better, eliminated, elephant products would sell for very little or not at all and thus remove the economic incentive to carry out the expensive, arduous and risky elephant hunts. Education and public awareness programmes should be increased to generate stigma associated with buying elephant products and persuade the public that elephants should be protected.

The report concludes that conservation of elephants in Central Africa requires integrated regional development and conservation policies which should be carried out by the COMFIFAC-CBFP (Commission of Ministers in Charge of Forest in Central Africa – Congo Basin Forest Partnership). By combining both development and nature conservation policies the incentive and opportunities to hunt elephants could be reduced.