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Protecting Giants: NGO Decision-making for Elephant Conservation

Protecting Giants: NGO Decision-making for Elephant Conservation

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Despite the benefits associated with elephant conservation and substantial prior efforts by NGOs to preserve elephant populations, the habitat range and population of African elephants has continued to shrink in recent years. Thus, there is a need for continued, if not expanded, conservation efforts. Currently, the African forest elephant is listed as critically endangered, while its close relative, the African savanna elephant, is listed as endangered in a recent update from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Given the present level of ecological stress, there is a possibility these species may soon be extinct.

Although their habitats range across numerous African countries, the African forest and savanna elephants face acute challenges in Kenya and Cameroon. In the former, a sizeable non-profit conservation presence has made progress in alleviating some of the threats to the elephant’s habitat, however infrastructure expansion and growing urban sprawl threaten those successes. Meanwhile, in Cameroon, the early success of government actors in establishing nature preserves has generated tension with local villages as elephants now interrupt economic and social activity, generating grievances from local actors. Besides these country-specific issues, the continued challenge of poaching, bush-meat hunting, and habitat fragmentation endanger elephant populations in both countries.

The case asks students to imagine that they are the executive director of a mid-sized international conservation NGO planning to develop and implement an elephant conservation program. The organization’s mission statement is to “protect endangered wildlife by supporting conservation programs that ensure that wildlife and people can co-exist and thrive.” The organization has received a sizeable private donation to support elephant conservation efforts, but this donor has not specified a particular field location. Preliminary discussions within the organization have established Kenya and Cameroon as top candidates for a project site location. Although the NGO has ample experience working on conservation and has completed elephant programs in the past, it has never implemented a project in either Kenya or Cameroon.

Given budget constraints, the student must choose whether to carry out the conservation program in either Kenya or Cameroon and provide a justification to the board of directors for their country selection. The case describes how both Kenya and Cameroon perform on four main dimensions that influence such decisions: country need, resource availability, the political environment, and the density of the NGO sector.

Suggested Citation: Ryan Pike, Sarah Bush, and Jennifer Hadden, “Protecting Giants: NGO Decision-making for Elephant Conservation,” Yale Case 23-014, January 18, 2023.

Teaching Note: Available upon request by qualified faculty.