How to Save Elephants: Obliterate Ivory Stockpiles Simultaneously
To save African elephants from extinction, “range states should put their ivory stockpiles beyond commercial use immediately and simultaneously,” says South African economist Ross Harvey.
Using a theoretical two-player, river-crossing game in a paper called “Preserving the African Elephant for Future Generations,” Harvey—a senior researcher with the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), the country’s premier research institute on international issues—demonstrates which combination of elephant preservation strategies would yield the most effective results.
He calculates that to slow the illegal trade in ivory and reduce demand, all African range countries need to simultaneously dispose of their ivory stockpiles: “If ivory stockpiles are obliterated…the exchange value of elephants will essentially move towards zero.”
Apart from sending a clear message to the consumer that ivory is off-limits, Harvey believes that if each nation’s stockpile disposal is staggered, as has been the case thus far, “syndicates will figure out which countries will be putting their stockpiles beyond use (and when). With that knowledge, “they will then strategize accordingly by attempting to access those stockpiles in advance.”
Such an event occurred in Mozambique in May, when thieves broke into the strong room holding Mozambique’s largest ever haul of confiscated rhino horn and ivory and stole 12 horns valued at around U.S. $1.1 million. The remaining stockpile was publicly destroyed on July 6.
Furthermore, Harvey contends, each time a country individually destroys its stockpile, the price of ivory is driven up, “creating an incentive for riskier behaviour by syndicates and undermining demand-reduction efforts.”