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Protected areas can conserve wildlife and benefit people when managed effectively. African governments increasingly delegate the management of protected areas to private, nongovernmental organizations, hoping that private organizations’ significant resources and technical capacities actualize protected areas’ potential. Does private sector management improve outcomes compared to a counterfactual of government management? We leverage the transfer of management authority from governments to African Parks (AP)—the largest private manager of protected areas in Africa—to show that private management significantly improves wildlife outcomes via reduced elephant poaching and increased bird abundances. Our results also suggest that AP’s management augments tourism, while the effect on rural wealth is inconclusive. However, AP’s management increases the risk of armed groups targeting civilians, which could be an unintended outcome of AP’s improved monitoring and enforcement systems. These findings reveal an intricate interplay between conservation, economic development, and security under privately managed protected areas in Africa.


This article was originally published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), volume 121, issue 29, in year.


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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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