Science, Politics, and Pragmatism
Conserving the Elephant Populations
The continued survival of elephants, or of hundreds of thousands of species unknown to science for that matter, is inextricably linked to a host of environmental, biological, ecological, social, economic, and political factors. As during the late Pleistocene, global climate change, this time human induced, is an environmental factor that could potentially make major impacts on landscapes and species. We can barely speculate upon how elephants and their habitats would respond to climate change in the coming decades.
The biological factors impinging on elephant survival include disease epidemics that could wipe out entire populations, especially smaller ones. The ecological considerations include the demographic viability of small populations in the face of stochasticity, habitat viability in relation to its loss and fragmentation, and changing habitat quality. The resolution of elephant-human conflict is an economic and a social issue with ethical dimensions in developing countries. At the same time, the changing economic contours of nations have witnessed fluxes in the demand for luxury consumption of ivory, with serious consequences for elephant populations. Finally, political structures and conflicts, internecine or international, can influence the course of conservation. Obviously, these factors do not operate independent of each other, but are intertwined.
Futurology is always risky business. However, I think it is fairly safe to say that the twenty-first century will be a defining moment in the earth's history of