The value of elephants: a pluralist approach

Antoinette van de Water, Michelle Henley, Lucy Bates, Rob Slotow

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Biodiversity conservation strategies may prioritise certain values of nature over others. Whilst there will likely always be a need for compromise in conservation planning, the consequences of trade-offs depend on peoples’ relative perceptions of values that are promoted or neglected. In practice, not fully understanding or taking into account the value systems of all stakeholders, including local people, leads to contention, social inequality, and ineffectiveness. Elephants provide an excellent case study to illustrate the need for multidimensional valuation systems as they provide multiple overlapping services and benefits in ecological, socio-cultural, economic, and spiritual dimensions. Yet, their conservation is often highly contentious and fiercely debated. Here, we present a pluralist valuation system that identifies the varied services and benefits of elephants, but which adds important dimensions missing from current frameworks such as that of IPBES. Two key additions: (1) incorporating moral values alongside the services and benefits, and (2) incorporating a feedback loop to promote mutually reinforcing interactions, will better support holistic and equitable conservation. Additionally, to aid the interrogation of the kinds of problems that lead to contention in elephant conservation, we mapped the types of trade-offs that occur when different values are at stake, which allows us to identify balanced conservation solutions that will lead to unity. This pluralist valuation approach, which is similarly applicable to other species and ecosystems, clarifies the necessity of properly accounting for stakeholder values in decision making, and promotes fairer conservation decisions that will generate broader buy-in and support, uniting people, and facilitating socially just and sustainable conservation outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101488
Number of pages23
JournalEcosystem Services
Early online date19 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • conservation
  • decision-making
  • ecosystem services
  • elephants
  • moral values
  • value of nature


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