#4 – Elephants

#4 – Elephants

eles.tarangireRecently we were besieged by conservation organizations begging for money to stop the otherwise inevitable extinction of elephants.

Fortunately, you didn’t give them anything near what they requested, and fortunately, elephants are not going extinct.

The #4 story of 2015 in Africa is “the elephant story” finally in a balanced, scientific way and much to the chagrin of numerous conservation organizations.

It was very hard for me, a staunch proponent of elephant conservation, to have to argue that other proponents of elephant conservation were screaming fire when there wasn’t any. Yet that is how I spent much of the last 18 months, getting booed.

The release last month of the Paul Allen elephant census has silenced my critics. We now have good numbers, for the first time ever, and elephants are not going extinct.

Poaching is extremely serious, perhaps definitively irreversible in central Tanzania. But practically everywhere else the population is holding its own, or increasing.

The hysteria that many organizations tried to create unsuccessfully was because of all the action that was happening in central Tanzania, which was bad. Beginning with an undercover film by the BBC of ivory dealers in Dar in 2012, to the arrest of a high profile dealer last November (that was actually an election gimmick), I argued continuously that exaggeration is just as bad as neglect.

The Allen census took a long time, but the hysteria abated when the overall numbers for Tanzania were published earlier last year. They ended once and for all the outrageous claims by several organizations that the populations had declined by 60%.

I find little solace in being proved correct, though. Exaggeration unmasked guts credibility. Fox News buying NatGeo isn’t trying to retain NatGeo’s old supporters, but organizations like the WWF and Save the Elephants now have a lot of difficult explaining ahead of them.

Elephant – like lion – are declining in certain places because of a terribly serious conflict between man and beast. Africa is developing. Africa’s wilderness has been preserved mostly for rich foreign tourists.

It’s important that we get back to the crux of the problem: how to demonstrate to local Africans an ultimate benefit from the protection of elephants while simultaneously not inhibiting the development of a modern African society.

That’s a tall order, but one that could never have been tackled in the hysterical atmosphere of the last several years. Now that’s over, let’s get on with it.

(For my summary of all the top 10 stories in Africa in 2015, click here.)