Study reveals true value of elephants

New research examining the benefits of elephants reveals that many values ​​are often overlooked when making decisions about their protection.

A collaboration between universities in England and South Africa found that conservation strategies often focus on and prioritize certain values ​​of nature, such as economic or ecological, over moral values.

Looking specifically at elephants, the study found that financial benefits such as ecotourism, trophy hunting and ivory or labor sources, often conflict with the animals’ ecological, cultural and spiritual contributions.

The authors argue that not fully understanding or considering the value systems of all stakeholders involved in conservation, including indigenous peoples, leads to social inequalities, conflicts and unsustainable strategies.

“We chose to look at elephants as a case study because their conservation can be particularly challenging and controversial,” says study co-author Antoinette van de Water of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. “We’re not saying economic contributions aren’t important, but there are many different values ​​at play and they all need to be considered in conservation strategies if they’re going to be successful.”

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The study also found that conservation decision-makers share a common worldview when considering the value of nature.

Co-author Dr Lucy Bates of the University of Portsmouth says: “Whether it is economic, environmental or social, a blanket approach to values ​​can influence the success of a conservation strategy.

“Consider something like the ivory trade, for example. The international trade in ivory is illegal, but many southern African countries want to resume the trade, which has caused controversy across the African continent. Done. If you focus less on the potential economic value of ivory, and more on the other ways elephants can help communities, it can be a game changer.

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“On a smaller scale, you can also apply this framework to define protected areas and what land can be made available to elephants. By listening to the people who live in these areas, you can clearly understand are how decisions will affect human life, and can find ways to solve any problems.

Newspaper, published in Ecosystem Servicesstates that the non-material benefits of nature include recreation, movement, mental health and social cohesion.

But it also suggests broader ethical values, such as human rights, environmental justice, nature rights and intergenerational heritage, also have a large part to play in conservation success.

A visual representation of the pluralistic elephant assessment system

The study recommends incorporating ethical values ​​related to biodiversity conservation into the evaluation framework to create a positive loop between the benefits of humans and nature.

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The researchers believe this approach will help policymakers and managers understand what elephants mean to people, why elephants are important in themselves, and what values ​​and interests are at stake. It can also be applied to other species and ecosystems.

“There really needs to be a change in thinking,” says van de Water. “Protection policies are often based on price tags. Our system of pluralistic values ​​provides solutions that are not based on economic gains or political status for a few, but on the long-term common good and the goals and aspirations of societies.”


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