Bandwagon Effects in Conservation

Fascinating case study on how the logic of fund-raising can drive NGOs to push for policies that are known to be harmful. Kaempfer & Lowenberg, The Ivory Bandwagon: International Transmission of Interest-Group Politics (pdf file, via Mit dem Kopf voran).

It is the case of the ban of the ivory trade. Scientists were against a ban on elephant hunting, “it would have been hard to find a conservationist with any zoological background and experience in Africa or with elephants who believed that a ban on the ivory trade was the way to save the African elephant”.

NGOs successfully raised money by dramatizing elephant “genocide” and the “African Chainsaw Massacre”.

Bonner (1993) describes how conservationists with impeccable scientific credentials, who were opposed to an ivory-trade ban, were “overcome by the public pressure and emotion and concerns about money” (34). They discovered that calling for a ban brought in more funding than any other cause and that any organization that failed to climb on the ivory-trade ban bandwagon risked losing members to more extremist competitors…

The bandwagon was gaining momentum, and conservation groups that did not jump aboard risked being left behind in the competition for members and contributions. In frustration, the chief fund-raiser for WWF–U.S. faxed the International in Switzerland, “We are in danger of losing our position with elephants” (Bonner 1993, 121). Bonner’s account makes clear that the fear of WWF officials was not that the elephant was threatened, but that the WWF was!

Fascinating reading.


2 thoughts on “Bandwagon Effects in Conservation

  1. I’ve read somewhere about this matter where some African nation legalizing ivory harvesting. This harvesting are legalized only on “pet” elephants (meaning that you have to own that elephant before you harvest the ivory).

    The result? The populations of elephant grows exponentially. Now if only I can find a link to the story…

  2. In Southern Africa there are growing elephant populations, and South Africa, Namibia and Botswana want permission to trade ivory. They did get a one-off permission to trade ivory stockpiles. The elephant populations grew in these countries because of good management. They were managed for conservation and tourism, not primarely for ivory.

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