Monday, August 13, 2007

Farming tiger.

Massey University zoologist/economist Brendan Moyle puts the common sense argument on animal conservation in this morning's Herald:
China needs to lift the ban on the sale of tiger parts if it wants to stop poaching and prevent extinction, a New Zealand tiger expert says. At the risk of horrifying conservationists, Dr Brendan Moyle, senior lecturer at Massey University, believes the Chinese Government should allow tiger farms to trade tiger parts, so poachers are unable to sell them on the black market, helping to prevent extinction." Make poaching unprofitable. We have created a monopoly for these guys and people are dreaming if they think it is going to stop. We are making them rich and it is not helping the tigers. I can't see any other way around this."
Makes perfect sense to me. Recognising property rights in animals is the best method of ensuring long-term protection for species that people value-after all, we don't see extinct breeds of dairy cows. The alternative has been to set our values against the law, with mostly dire results for law and for the animals supposedly protected.

In the recent Massey News, Moyle extends the argument, and briefly puts his credentials:
As a consultant to the Chinese, Dr Moyle points out his mixed background in both wildlife management and economics, makes him, the ‘tiger expert’, a rare breed himself. Whatever the views of other conservationists, he says there are three key things needed to destroy poaching – legal trade, credible law enforcement and a good monitoring system.
All three things that are missing in most areas in which poaching is endemic.
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See also:
UPDATE: Brendan Moyle clarifies in a comment below [thanks Brendan]:
Some comments perhaps. The breeding rate in farms is (potentially) 2 litters per year of an average size of 4 cubs. There is also tons of bone stockpiled in freezers and TCM hospitals.

The problem is not the farms but the ban. The ban isn't helping. The ban effectively means that every wild tiger in Asia has a bounty of $US50k on its head. We're literally paying Asian criminal networks to kill tigers. That's the default NGO position...

For that reason we have had a catastrophic decline in tigers in the wild. Farms may not be the ideal situation, but I think it is time to go after the poachers with 'all guns blazing.' I'd like to demolish their profits--and that means dumping tons of high quality product into the market.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Kiwi farmer said...

notPC, the farming model is fine if the animals breed at a sufficient rate. However, many species don't. I'm not sure about tigers, but my guess is that they don't either.

A similar argument could be used to save kiwi, but the problem is that kiwi cannot be farmed at a fast-enough rate, to make this sort of model (which sounds great in theory) a realistic option.

8/13/2007 06:24:00 pm  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

I would be interested to do a tiger spit roast, especially if it is a farmed tiger. I had done lamb and pig spit roasts in the past many times, but I wondered what would be a farmed tiger spit roast taste like.

8/13/2007 10:18:00 pm  
Anonymous brainfart said...

Oh kiwi farmer, silly you, privatizing stuff solves everything don't you know! it's kind of like Dr Who's sonic screwdriver. Look at what a giant success privatizing NZ railways was, we all benefited from that did we not!

8/14/2007 10:28:00 am  
Anonymous Brendan Moyle said...

Some comments perhaps. The breeding rate in farms is (potentially) 2 litters per year of an average size of 4 cubs. There is also tons of bone stockpiled in freezers and TCM hospitals.

The problem is not the farms bu the ban. The ban isn't helping. The ban effectively means that every wild tiger in Asia has a bounty of $US50k on its head. We're literally paying Asian criminal networks to kill tigers. That's the default NGO position...

For that reason we have had a catastrophic decline in tigers in the wild. Farms may not be the ideal situation, but I think it is time to go after the poachers with 'all guns blazing'. I'd like to demolish their profits- and that means dumping tons of high quality product into the market.

8/14/2007 06:59:00 pm  
Anonymous kiwi farmer said...

Brendan Moyle said...
Some comments perhaps. The breeding rate in farms is (potentially) 2 litters per year of an average size of 4 cubs.

Brendan, where you say "potentially" it should read "in theory". That is a very different concept.

Lots of animals do not breed in captivity. Conservation measures usually involve taking the offspring (either the young or the eggs) from the wild, raise them in a safe environment and then re-released into the wild, when their odds of survival are better.

Tell me Brendan, what is the actual reproduction rate of tigers kept in captivity? Not the theoretical rate, but ACTUAL rate? See, coming up with all sorts of fanciful ideas that sound good "in theory" is easy. Translating them into reality is another issue.

I am not against the idea of farming animals to save a species per se. I have often discussed this idea with others. But in reality it just doesn't work for many of the endangered species.

Imagine farming kereru for meat. I bet there would be a huge market for it, but they don't breed well in captivity, so farming is not an option.

By the way, any scientific evidence for the therapeutic efficacy of tiger bone?

8/15/2007 12:45:00 pm  
Anonymous Brendan Moyle said...

Hi- one female tiger produces an average litter size of 4. 2 litters can be produced by removing the cubs early and using a surrogate mother. The only reason the Chinese facilities have stopped producing 2 litters per year, is they then have to feed a lot more tigers. These tigers generate no extra revenue. So the current strategy is to put each female on contraceptives after one litter.

I am assured by many TCM experts in China that tiger-bone is effective and they have the studies to prove it. It is possible. There may be some unique combination of amino-acids and bone cell substrates that exert a pharmacological effect. I have no way of verifying it, as I can't read much Chinese. I speak it better...

In the short term however, the only thing that matters is what the Chinese consumers believe. 25m Chinese with severe and painful bone diseases, are willing to pay a lot of money to get relief. And something that has supposed to work since the Han dynasty 2000 years ago, holds a powerful attraction.

8/15/2007 04:38:00 pm  
Anonymous Brendan Moyle said...

...as an aside, back-of-the-envelope calculations show that the USA- with 10,000 to 15,000 tigers- will generate around 5-6 tons of bone every year just through natural mortality.

But we can't use that as a source to fight poachers, becauae of the international ban on the trade in tiger parts. Bear in mind, that in pre-ban years China consumed 2.5 to 3 tons of bone p.a.

This is similar to bear bile. The USA harvests 40,000 bears a year, which is ample to meet all of China's demand without the farms or poaching being necessary. Again, the US ban on the export of bear gall-bladders, so partly sustains the poaching and bear-farms in China.

8/15/2007 05:00:00 pm  
Anonymous kiwi farmer said...

Brendan - I am truly surprised by the very high breeding rate of tigers kept in captivity. Most endangered species simply don't reproduce at such an extraodinary rate.

The problem of feeding costs makes sense (given that they are carnivorous), although you could potentially off-set this cost with early harvesting (like we do with lamb).

I do wonder about the market for tiger bone products though.

1) Just because 25 million Chinese people believe tiger bone works, isn't evidence that it does, especially given that there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that many products containing tiger bone, appear to come from a very special pink furless truffel hunting tiger that has a small curly tail and grunts a lot.

2) Homeopathy.

3) Just because people have been using something for centuries, isn't evidence that it works.

4) IF tiger bone helps with pain from rheumatoid arthritis (and I honestly doubt it), maybe other bone products will too. What is so special about tiger bones, that makes this a better product than, say, duck bone, or buffalo bone, or sheep bone, or rat bone, or dog bone, or cat bone? Perhaps it's the mystique surrounding the tiger, more than the bone itself.

5) IF tiger bone helps with pain from rheumatoid arthritis, why not publish it in international peer-reviewed medical journals? IF it is a "unique combination of amino-acids and bone cell substrates that exert a pharmacological effect", surely that should be published. It might even be possible to synthesise these, making actual tiger bone irrelevant.

Maybe the customer is not always right. No more market, no more need for poaching (although I think some people will always want tiger products, simply because it's a tiger. Nothing more).

ps, my initial response was to notPCs overly simplistic market model. I must admit, I was surprised by the high captive breeding rate and concede that for tigers this might actually be a solution. However, Peter, that model doesn't work for all species. Maybe in the future through artificial means.

8/15/2007 06:08:00 pm  
Anonymous Brendan Moyle said...

Hi- at this stage we're losing tigers so quickly to poachers, the actual effect of tiger-bone is moot. According to the Chinese TCM experts, the closest substitute is leopard bone, but it is not anywhere as potent. This does make me suspect that there could be something to it- perhaps cat-based and more concentrated in tigers.

Even if you convinced 1m Chinese (with bone diseases) a year that tigerbone was not effective, even in 24 years time there would be enough demand to wipe out wild tiger populations several times over. These guys don't read Western peer-reviewed journals either. They get their advice from TCM doctors.

In the long term, perhaps by having tigerbone for sale alongside Western remedies and other subsitutes we will get a better idea of effectiveness. But with the use of tigerbone driven completely underground, there's not much chance of good comparisons.

The immediate problem is thus, what to do. If we don't control poaching now, all the longer terms things we want to do, won't be possible.

In terms of wildlife, there is a tendency for many say, free marketeers to emphasise property rights solutions. While many conservationists exaggerate the risk of moving away from state protection.

I note that according to most theories on raising wildlife, it should not be possible to farm crocodiles. Populations have a low growth rate, and adults have to be 25-30 years before they breed. Yet we have done captive raising of many crocodilian species very well. The main problems were overcome by adopting a ranching technology and shifting harvest to cohorts with very high mortality rates anyway. This was supported by 'additional' sources of revenue. Tourism is an important source of revenue for many crocodilian operations, and meat is a useful supplement. Wildlife is often not a single-output product.

What makes this more interesting is that nobody (in the Australian case) predicted what would happen under the harvest regimes started in the late 70s. Supporters did not see that meat or tourism would become important complements. Opponents were sure that trade would see a resumption of poaching and the operations were not viable, given wild populations grow at 3-4% per year.

Often it seems with wildlife, we can work around a lot of the biological and economic constraints. These projects usually collapse because of political pressure.

8/15/2007 07:53:00 pm  

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