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At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope for Africa's Wildlife.

"IF IT PAYS, it stays," says a Montana rancher who markets the hunting access on his land. For this rancher, the elk who graze on grass that could be eaten by cattle are considered an asset rather than a liability, but this is generally not true for wildlife around the world. Indeed, in Africa, where many people live at subsistence levels, animals such as elephants that wealthy Westerners want saved are little better than giant rats. Not surprisingly, Africans who bear the costs of living with these animals are all too willing to kill them for even a small return.

Such is the problem addressed by Raymond Bonner: How can the wildlife of Africa be transformed from a liability into an asset? At the Hand of Man is a practical guide to wildlife management that considers the "peril and hope for Africa's wildlife" in a context familiar to economists. The hope lies in getting the incentives right.

At the Hand of Man makes it clear that there is no such thing as a natural regulation unless we recognize that man is and always has been a part of that regulation. The only question is which men and women will do the regulating.

Bonner's "good guys and bad guys" do not fit typical stereotypes. His description of "the white man's game" paints environmental groups with black hats. These "eco-colonialists" sitting in their posh offices in Geneva, London and Washington and led by slick direct-mail solicitation companies used the poaching of elephants to capture the hearts and pocketbooks of environmentalists.

The World Wildlife Fund International (WWF) with its familiar panda logo is Bonner's main villain. His description of the covert Operation Lock, which was aimed (literally) at killing elephant poachers in the name of conservation, reads like a spy novel. He documents how the WWF channeled $900,000 into the hands of elephant mercenaries headed by the founder of Britain's most elite commando force. When Operation Lock was exposed, Bonner reports that the response from WWF and the African Wildlife Foundation was, "Get on with it. Don't tell us what you're doing, but get on with it."

The overt attack by environmentalists involved the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). By getting the elephant listed as an endangered species under CITES, international groups not only successfully raised the cost of trading ivory, they feathered their own nests as millions of dollars flowed in from concerned citizens outside Africa. As Bonner notes, "The advocates of the ban can rightfully claim that poaching has declined as the price of ivory has fallen. But that doesn't mean it was the right remedy."

An example of the "right remedy" is Zimbabwe's Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE). The premise of CAMPFIRE is "that the wildlife belongs to the person on whose land it is found," in this case Zimbabwe natives who control their communal lands. Under CAMPFIRE the natives profit mainly from the hunting of elephants, in some cases doubling village per capita incomes in one year. While Bonner finds ownership of wildlife "an uncomfortable position," his pragmatism overshadows his romanticism.

My one criticism of Bonner is that he fails to comprehend fully the importance of incentives. The environmental leaders Bonner describes are not bad people; certainly they care about African wildlife. But their incentives are little different from those of bureaucrats who maximize their budgets. Elephants are no more in danger of extinction than are spotted owls, but making people think they are makes the money flow.

Bonner makes it sound as though poor wildlife management resulted from discrimination by "the monopoly of white Westerners" that kept black Africans out of wildlife agencies. But control of wildlife agencies is not enough; the key is giving the people who live with and bear the cost of wildlife a positive incentive to manage them as a sustainable resource.

Anthony-Hall Martin, in his book Elephants of Africa states that "The deepest sincerity and the highest moral convictions of the animal welfare movements of the Western world will not prevent the demise of most of Africa's elephants. A ban on the ivory trade will not feed a single starving African....If elephants maintain a financial value....the chances of survival will be greatly improved. But in the final analysis, the elephants will survive only if men decide that they should."

Clearly the fate of Africa's wildlife is At the Hand of Man. "If the wildlife of Africa is a priceless world heritage," says Bonner, "then the world has an obligation to pay for its preservation. It is an obligation we haven't met; it's too easy to impose bans -- and make the Africans pay." Hopefully the thousands who have been duped by the elephant campaign into thinking that giving to Western environmental groups who insist on making the Africans pay will read At the Hand of Man and consider using free markets to pay the Africans who provide the habitat. As Bonner concludes, this will allow those same Africans who "threw off colonialism" to "throw off eco-colonialism."

* Robert H. McGuckin is Chief, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Bureau of the Census, Washington, DC, and Arnold P. Reznek is an Economic Statistician at the Center. Research results summarized in this paper do not necessarily reflect the views of the Census Bureau.
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Author:Anderson, Terry L.
Publication:Business Economics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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