Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Tiger, tiger, burning bright

Tigers in both India and China have been under threat for years. In China, Mao wanted them wiped out and encouraged people to kill them (presumably when they themselves weren't being killed by the Red Guard); after Mao, tigers became highly valued for their body parts, particularly tiger bones which are apparently highly valued for the treatment of arthritis, and protection was applied to tigers. The result was the opposite of that hoped for: the numbers plummeted even faster. India too tried protection: thirty years ago they launched Project Tiger, "the most high-profile conservation program in the world" to conserve remaining tigers. The numbers continued to plummet.

In both India and China the results were the same: Tiger numbers plummeted in both China and India during periods of both hunting and of protection. Hunt them and their numbers plummet. Protect them, and the numbers still plummet. They plummeted in China right down to just 20 or 30 left alive at the lowest point. The reason is that 'protection' raised the value of tigers to poachers, so much so that it was worth the risk to kill them, while ensuring that the value could only be enjoyed by the poachers.

Now, a different solution is being mooted. As noted by the chaps at Cafe Heyek, "Barun Mitra, the vastly talented head of India's Liberty Institute, has this splendid op-ed in today's New York Times. In it, Barun proposes that the best way to keep tigers from going extinct is to allow them to be owned and traded -- that is, objects of commerce."

And in fact, that's what is currently happening in China, with the result that the 20 or 30 have now become 3,000-4,000.

* You can read Mitra's op-ed here (if you have an NY Times sub): Sell the Tiger to Save it
* You can read Mitra's report here at PERC: Saving the Tiger: China and India Move in Radically Different Directions. (See also, PERC's Special Report: Who Will Save the Wild Tiger? by Michael Sas-Rolfes)
* And you can read a short summary of Mitra's op-ed here at Cafe Hayek: Roaring Applause for this Proposal. It begins:
...like forests, animals are renewable resources. If you think of tigers as products, it becomes clear that demand provides opportunity, rather than posing a threat. For instance, there are perhaps 1.5 billion head of cattle and buffalo and 2 billion goats and sheep in the world today. These are among the most exploited of animals, yet they are not in danger of dying out; there is incentive, in these instances, for humans to conserve. So it can be for the tiger. In pragmatic terms, this is an extremely valuable animal.
Read on here. As Professor Graham Webb says of this form of 'economic conseravtion,' if you want to protect wildlife for people who value them, then those who live with the animals need to be able to extract some value. In short, conservationists need to recognise the property rights of those who host the wildlife they want protected.
...An increasing body of conservationists believe local people should not be treated as the enemy of conservation (Hutton and Dickson 2000). They should be active partners, at the frontline. To achieve and sustain this, they need to receive tangible, sustainable benefits for their efforts. In most cases, the only sustainable way of providing those benefits is through using wildlife for economic gain. That is, conservation through sustainable use (CSU).
You can find an opposing view here.

RELATED: Conservation, Politics-World, Economics


  1. And here I was thinking real science was about entire ecosystems. . . . Is a Tiger in the Pen worth a Tiger in the forest?

  2. Of course it made them more valuable to poachers. And of course it would be a good idea to allow them to be traded and sold. People will protect things they own. especially if they intend to make money off of the resale of it. I think the cattle, sheep, and goat numbers are testament to this fact.

  3. How about owning the Sharks & whales?

  4. I've probably got enough room for a baby whale in my bathroom . . .

  5. It would work for any and all animals, fish, or other creature.

  6. Next someone even wants to try this with the kiwi! And the Department of Killing the Kiwi will fail in their almost succeeded attempt. Can't let that happen. We need internet controls so people don't read these subversive posts.


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