Recent surveys suggest tens of thousands of elephants are being poached annually across Africa, putting the two species at risk across much of their range. Although the financial motivations for ivory poaching are clear, the economic benefits of elephant conservation are poorly understood. We use Bayesian statistical modelling of tourist visits to protected areas, to quantify the lost economic benefits that poached elephants would have delivered to African countries via tourism.

It has become essential in policy and decision-making circles to think about the economic benefits (in addition to moral and scientific motivations) humans derive from well-functioning ecosystems. The concept of ecosystem services has been developed to address this link between ecosystems and human welfare. Since policy decisions are often evaluated through cost–benefit assessments, an economic analysis can help make ecosystem service research operational. In this paper we provide some simple economic analyses to discuss key concepts involved in formalizing ecosystem service research.

Global economic growth during the past century has lifted many into lives of unprecedented luxury.The cost has been the degradation of vital ecosystems