Why Elephants? But Not Cattle?

Throughout history, many species of animals have been threatened with extinction. In fact, many of them are extinct (If you can remember the Woolly mammoth that we used to play with). The last northern white rhino on earth, Sudan died in March 2018. Their lives may be in threat because of meat, ivory, fin, horn or anything. The animals with some kind of a commercial value face the threat of extinction.

But, why do all animals with commercial value do not face this threat?

How does the cow survives ? or the Chicken? cattle (or cows) has a great demand for its meat and it give you milk. So there is a commercial value for it. So is the Elephant.  The ivory is a widely sought after thing and it has a great commercial value and yet Elephant face a threat of extinction. According to the Red List , Asian Elephant is an Endangered animal. We have the simple answer to this in Economics. Yes, in Economics, there's the explanation behind this ambiguous relationship among animals and its commercial value.  

Destroying the ivory captured in Africa - African Elephant is in the Vulnerable category

First, some basic economics

In economics, goods can be simply classified as private goods and public goods. This definition can be extended to categorize goods into four distinct categories. Look at the below figure.

Source: Principles of Microeconomics, Mankiw
To which category does the Elephant belongs? Since it does not have a private ownership, it cannot be excluded (The case of legal sanctions is discussed later). On the other hand, finite number of Elephants make it rival to consume, that is ones consumption may limit the consumption of another one as in the case of Fish in the ocean.

Elephant is a Common Resource (in most cases)
Cattle (cow) has a private ownership (But in Sri Lanka, they roam in public roads like public goods) and it is a rival good. Therefore, 

Cattle is Private Good
So, the case is complete now. Unless, government intervene to exclude the Elephant from consumption.

What will happen if government make it illegal to kill Elephants ?

We have to turn to basic economics to clarify this as well. The supply and demand forces together determine an equilibrium price and a quantity for any good in a market. When it is illegal to kill Elephants, the supply will decrease. Now we have a higher demand for a lesser amount of goods, which finally create a Black market price. This higher price will give an incentive to kill more and more Elephants (see, government is an utter failure)

Experience from other countries

Some countries have made arrangements to private ownership of Elephants and right to kill Elephants if it is owned by a private owner. Results? it was a success ! Elephant population has grown significantly. You can find how Zimbabwe gained from making wildlife a private property here. 

This may not be valid in everywhere but what matters is, principles of economics can be used to explain the relationship between Elephants and the Red List.

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