The countries that are best at conservation are the ones that depend on wildlife tourism

Into the woods.
Into the woods.
Image: Reuters/ Heathcliff O'Malley
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The struggle to conserve wildlife is a real battle. Conservationists are faced with a growing international trade in wildlife parts and rising demand for bushmeat. In Kaziranga, a national park in northeastern India, rangers have resorted to protecting rhinos by shooting poachers on sight.

Now, a study published in Global Ecology and Conservation shows that the countries that have been the best at conservation tend to be the ones with the most to gain from it economically.

The study focuses on the conservation of megafauna, or large terrestrial mammals. Adult carnivores in this category weigh 15 kg (33 pounds) or more, and adult herbivores or omnivores weigh 100 kg (220 pounds) or more.

One reason the authors focused on megafauna is that their “charisma” means they are particularly effective in generating interest from the general public and willingness to pay for conservation. Saving the majestic tiger, for instance, commands a disproportionate amount of funding for wildlife conservation in India. 

Megafauna is also a big tourism draw. “Megafauna can have significant economic value if their use values are harnessed appropriately and sustainably,” the study notes. “For example, countries such as Kenya, Botswana and South Africa have successfully harnessed the appeal of large mammals to overseas visitors and wildlife-based tourism now comprises significant proportions of their GDPs.”

The study ranks 152 countries on a Megafauna Conservation Index (MCI), which is a composite of three elements: the proportion of land occupied by megafauna in a country; the percentage of the megafauna habitat that is strictly protected; and the percentage of the GDP devoted to funding for domestic and international conservation efforts.

The study found that wildlife destinations in Africa dominated the list of high performers. Overall, countries in Africa had the highest mean MCI scores, followed by North/Central America, Asia, Europe and South America, in that order.

The countries with the highest scores on the Megafauna Conservation Index  

The countries with the lowest scores on the Megafauna Conservation Index

The authors recommended ways for countries to improve their scores, including increasing funding for conservation and expanding the network of protected areas, which would also boost their earnings from tourism.