Elephants are often kept at high numbers in protected areas so that they will be easy for tourists to find and view. Despite these high numbers being detrimental to the environment, managers are reluctant to reduce elephant numbers as it ‘may detract from the tourist experience.


By using a number of game reserves in the Eastern Cape Dr. Kristine Maciejewski investigated how many elephants are required to keep tourists happy, while ensuring that the game reserves are still conserving elephants.





In: Maciejewski, K. and G. I. H. Kerley. 2014.

Elevated elephant density does not improve ecotourism opportunities: convergence in social and ecological objectives.


Ecological Applications 24(5): 920-926.

Online paper



To protect biodiversity, many protected areas must find ways of self-financing.  Ecotourism is a viable option to achieve financial sustainability. However there is concern that when ecotourism operations are driven to achieve successful game-viewing, the management of charismatic species, such as elephants, might be influenced.

What we found

  • High numbers of elephants are found in private protected areas in the Eastern Cape.
  • However, elephant viewing success does not increase with the number of elephants in a private protected area.
  • This means that having high numbers of elephants will not automatically result in high numbers of tourists.

Management advice

  • Elephants may play an important role in attracting tourists to parks such as the Addo Elephant National Park, but there is no evidence that having a lot of elephants leads to high tourist numbers.
  • It is therefore not necessary to have a large elephant population that could have large ecological costs.
  • We therefore strongly recommend that elephant numbers be managed at their carrying capacities.