On July 18, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi set fire to $3 million worth of elephant tusks. This dramatic gesture, orchestrated by a Washington public-relations firm, was designed to demonstrate Kenya's dedication to saving the African elephant. In the belief that tourism should be the only commercial use of the animals, all other options were banned a decade ago. Since then, the Kenyan elephant population has fallen from 65,000 to 19,000. At that rate, all of them will be gone in five years. Kenyan wildlife experts blame poachers and the ivory trade. In Zimbabwe, by contrast, the ivory trade is seen as an important tool for saving elephants. Shops openly sell ivory and hides from elephants culled to prevent overpopulation in the country's game parks. Part of the profit is returned to the parks. Elephants on tribal communal lands are managed similarly: Some two dozen Zimbabwean villages will earn a total of $5 million next year by selling ivory and elephant-hunting rights. Zimbabwe's policies are based on the belief that the best way to protect elephants is to ensure that people benefit from their use and thus have a vested interest in their preservation. In the decade during which Kenya's elephant population was dwindling, Zimbabwe's grew from 30,000 to 43,000. The respective results of these antithetical strategies are visible across Africa. Elephant populations in those countries using a Zimbabwean approach -- Botswana, Malawi, Namibia and South Africa -- are increasing at a rate of 5 percent annually. The Zimbabwean approach, known as conservation through utilization, allows safari hunting and tourism on private, state and communal lands as well as the sale of ivory and hides. In Botswana, for example, safari-hunting permits are sold as part of that country's game-management program. South Africa's Kruger National Park earned $2.5 million last year -- 10 percent of its annual budget -- by selling ivory and hides from 350 elephants culled to control herd size. By contrast, East and Central African countries use the Kenyan approach. Their collective elephant populations have dropped from 866,000 in 1979 to 404,000 in 1989. Some projections indicate that elephants could be extinct in East and Central Africa as early as 2005. Despite these failures, however, the Kenyan method now dominates international efforts to save the African elephant. Early this summer, Kenya, Tanzania and international conservation groups called for an immediate, worldwide ban on the ivory trade. The United States and the European Community responded by prohibiting imports. Japan and Hong Kong, the destination of most of the globe's raw ivory, instituted some controls as well. Kenya and Tanzania also requested the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) to list the African elephant in its "Appendix I." An Appendix I listing will ban all trade in elephant products, including hides as well as ivory, among nations agreeing to abide by CITES' rulings. A decision is expected at the CITES meeting which begins next week. Best of Intentions The African experience suggests that many wildlife preservationists are asking the wrong question. Instead of "How do we stop the ivory trade?" they should ask: "How do we make elephants valuable enough that people have an incentive to be careful stewards, rather than careless exterminators?" But they don't, perhaps because a conservation ideology fueled by Western -- and particularly American -- opposition to commercial use has misled those who wish to save elephants. (American conservationists generally oppose relying on market forces to preserve wildlife.) A second possibility is less benign: An international ivory ban is expected to substitute for effective law enforcement at the national level and to cover up decades of mismanagement and corruption. Regardless of motives, a government ban on a valued commodity never wholly eliminates demand. Three things do happen, however: Prices increase; people with a comparative advantage at avoiding detection -- usually criminals and corrupt public officials -- take over the formerly legal market; and, in the case of a resource owned in common, the resource disappears. Legalizing trade and protecting property rights, however, reverses these outcomes: Prices drop as the legal supply grows; there is no incentive for criminality and corruption; and property rights encourage wise stewardship of the resource. Trade bans have consistently failed to protect species for which there is a commercial demand. Many species of Latin American parrots, for instance, are "protected" by a CITES Appendix I listing. Prices skyrocketed after the trade ban and the legal market was taken over by poachers who make no effort to maintain birds on a sustainable basis. After all, the nest left today will, in all likelihood, be taken by someone else tomorrow. Native hunters go so far as to chop down nesting trees to get the parrots. The captured birds are drugged, hidden in automobile door panels (even hubcaps), and smuggled into the United States where the few that actually survive are sold on the black market for as much as $20,000. The return for trading in "protected" birds is often greater than what can be made from producing illegal drugs. Thus, rather than reduce the threat to native parrot populations, prohibition has increased it. Prohibition has also failed to protect Africa's black rhino, which is valued for its horn. About 50,000 existed in Africa when the 1976 CITES ban went into effect. The rhinos dwindled to 14,800 by 1980 and 8,800 by 1984. Only about 3,500 exist today, most of them in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Rhino horn is prized by Arabs for dagger handles and by Asians for its supposed value as a medicine and aphrodisiac. Rhino horn currently sells for about $8,000 per pound and each horn weighs about 10 pounds, making a rhino worth about $80,000. Without economic incentives to save rhinos, even Zimbabwe has had poaching problems and officials there are moving some rhino from the Zambezi Valley to privately owned ranches, where they can be more actively protected. Black rhino populations have increased only in South Africa's well protected and funded game reserves. All wild cats were listed on the CITES Appendix I in 1976. And the fact that some leopard populations grew and were subsequently "downlisted" to allow sport hunting and some export for non-commercial, personal use is sometimes claimed as an Appendix I success. But scientific data did not support listing these populations on Appendix I in the first place; and the listing predictably discouraged preservation. Zimbabwe's leopards, for example, were not endangered and they posed a serious threat to local livestock. Consequently, until the CITES downlisting was approved, leopards were killed in rural areas, not for their skins, but for predator control. Market Incentives Contrary to the poor record of trade bans, commercial use has successfully protected a broad variety of species. Seabirds are farmed effectively in Iceland, crocodiles and butterflies in Papua New Guinea, ostriches in South Africa and Texas, and a broad variety of species in Zimbabwe. Since Zimbabwe declared a reservation to the Appendix I listing for crocodiles, crocodile farming has become a multi-million dollar business there and is growing in Malawi. The Northern white rhinoceros, also listed on Appendix I, declined from 1,500 animals spread among five countries in 1960 to just 20 animals in Zaire by 1989. Concurrently, the Southern white rhino increased tenfold in South Africa and now totals about 6,000 in parks, reserves and on privately-owned ranches. White rhinos are hunted in South Africa and the horn derived from hunting and natural mortality totals several hundred kilograms each year. These horns are not presently traded, but could be the source of millions of dollars annually to be spent on additional rhino protection. South Africa's wildlife specialists are considering requesting a reservation under CITES and selling the horn. All of Africa's elephants could be protected like those in the south, if they were allowed to become part of the market economy. Elephant ivory has been prized for centuries and is now especially valued in the Far East. It is made into piano keys and carved into chess pieces, figures, and the Oriental signature stamps known as "chops." Uncarved tusks like the ones burned by Kenya's government sell for $1,000 each; and the hide, which is made into a broad range of leather goods, is worth another $2,000. When rural Africans can benefit from elephant hunts and from selling elephant products, they have an economic stake in elephant conservation. That stake can be sizable: $25,000 is the price of an average Zimbabwe hunt where elephant is the main trophy. Further income is generated for rural communities when animals that destroy human property are killed by National Park personnel and the ivory and hide are given to the community. Income from hunting and ivory also helps finance enforcement of anti-poaching measures. One Zimbabwean subsistence community recently curtailed poaching in Gona-re-Zhao National Park and villagers withdrew from some land for wildlife in exchange for hunting permits for elephants and buffalo that overflowed from the park. The permits were sold to a safari operator. Part of the proceeds was used to develop community facilities, and the rest distributed directly to community members who lost crops to animal damage. Without such income, rural Africans kill elephants or destroy their habitat in order to survive. Elephants are dangerous competitors who drink water supplies dry, tear up trees and trample crops. In countries such as Kenya and Tanzania where over 80 percent of the people live off agriculture and human populations are rising at 3 or 4 percent each year, few families are willing to endure hunger so an elephant can live to provide a job for an urban-based tourist guide or a photo opportunity for a foreign tourist. The simple reality is that elephants compete with people for scarce resources and rural Africans must benefit if conservation is to be successful. Requests for trade bans ignore that reality and the incentive it creates for people to engage in poaching or to simply kill off local elephants. The lessons from other species with commercial value that have been listed on CITES Appendix I suggest an Appendix I listing will make things worse for Africa's elephants. Some countries have already established ivory stockpiles in anticipation of a price rise. The Economist reports that Burundi has stashed 90-100 tons and Hong Kong has 500-700 tons. One effect of the price rise will be to encourage more people to be involved in poaching. Likely candidates include the Southern Somali Shifta who roam and plunder at will in northeastern Kenya and who are suspected of killing conservationist George Adamson recently. A second effect will be to encourage greater political corruption as the returns from aiding illegal shipments will rise along with the price of ivory. Thus, virtually no one will have an incentive to preserve elephants and their habitat, but underpaid game guards, corrupt politicians, rural farmers, and organized poachers will have an increased incentive to poach. Money and Morality If those countries with effective conservation-through-utilization policies in place abide by a CITES trade ban, they will lose income, the incentive to protect elephants, and eventually their elephants as well. To avoid this disaster, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia have announced they will not honor a strict ban. Instead, they are developing their own ivory marketing and control system. This system will include stringent controls and checks to reduce the chances of illegal ivory from other African countries being sold through the system. It will introduce a form of ivory identification based on chemical analysis, x-ray spectrophotometry, electron microscopy and other forensic techniques. The identification technique will pinpoint the origin of the ivory. Only that ivory originating in the countries that join the regional marketing system will be allowed to be sold. If the United States government continues to accept the arguments of the no-commercial-use preservationists, we will be unwitting allies in the war against the African elephant. We may even encourage poaching of other species as price increases due to trade bans make it profitable to seek elephant ivory substitutes such as walrus ivory and hippopotamus teeth. At the very least, the United States should allow the importation of ivory sold through Southern Africa's regional marketing system. A more positive action would be to urge conservation organizations and East and Central African officials to abandon naive notions about the effectiveness of trade bans and to implement conservation through utilization programs. Bans on hunting need to be replaced with policies that encourage game ranching, safari hunting, and indigenous use of wildlife. Part of the income from these commercial activities can be used to fund expanded patrolling efforts to protect the newly established rights to wildlife. Commercialization and intensive management of wildlife are difficult concepts for many members of the American wildlife lobby to accept. But, there is still time to reconsider. Expanding elephant herds in Southern Africa shows there is no need for those in East and Central Africa to be rushing towards extinction. 'Gator Aid UNITED STATES policies affecting commercialization of native endangered species have been contradictory. In 1979, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revised its own regulations to allow commercial foreign trade in American alligators, including those produced on alligator farms. The hope at the time was that trade in these alligators would lessen rather than stimulate demand for other endangered crocodilians. Ten years later, alligator farming is so successful that the wild population has exploded, profits from hides and meat have reached record highs and state universities are adding alligator sections to aquaculture classes. Contrary to its policy on alligators, the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a 1983 request to allow commercial use of captive-bred green sea turtles. These animals remain endangered, as do the other species of sea turtles that farmers were raising along with the commercially valuable green sea turtles. If the farmers' request had been granted, it is very likely we would now have more turtles, less reason to worry over the numbers that drown in shrimpers' nets and perhaps even university courses in turtle-raising. Instead, we continue to lose turtles because of a failing no-commercial-use policy. Randy Simmons, a visiting scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is director of the Institute of Political Economy at Utah State University. Urs Kreuter, a range scientist who lives in Zimbabwe, is a reserach associate of the Institute. This article is adapted from an article in Policy Review.