Can Markets Protect The Tiger?
None of the current policies try to harness the power of markets to conserve wildlife. But the fact is that the long arm of the law would be more effective if it were complemented by even longer reach of the market. Consider in particular those animals that are in danger because of the products they provide. These animals are much more under threat by poaching for these products than by habitat destruction. Bans on trade in animal products do not reduce demand. They simply drive the activity underground. Our policy makers also forget that while bans make trading illegal and risky, thereby raising the cost of such activity, bans also result in higher benefits through black market prices. The growing incidence of poaching indicates that benefits outweigh the costs. A radically different solution could be to increase the supply of products in high demand through farming. Thus, tigers could be reared through tiger farming and their various body products sold. The same would hold for elephant ivory and chiru antelope fur. After all, we do rear poultry and goat and various other animals for milk and meat. Note that chickens in the wild survive because poultry farms deliver chicken at 70 rupees a kilo. Similarly, tiger/elephant/antelope farming would reduce the poaching of these creatures in the wild.
A legal and enhanced supply of these products would push down their market price. With lower prices, the incentive to poach would also decrease. The very fact that it is difficult to distinguish farmed ivory or tiger bones from those in the wild would knock the bottom out of poaching. After all, why go through the trouble of poaching when one could rear animals for the same purpose? The key issue is the relative cost of obtaining animal products from legal farming than through illegal poaching. Here economies of scale as in the case of all farming would come into playthe larger the number of animals bred the lower the cost per unit. Besides, elephants and tigers grow easily in captivitywitness the large number of tigers bred in zoos. Farming could provide a substantial number of tiger products in a relatively short time, thereby greatly reducing their market prices. China and Thailand breed tigers and their experience suggests tigers could be raised commercially to produce an alternative supply of products. If commercial farming of animals were legal, producers would join forces to create a certification system that ensured quality and authenticity of the products: a major problem with poached products.
Moreover a surfeit of products such as ivory and shahtoosh shawls, which are status symbols, would detract from their snob value and thus reduce demand. If these were commonplace they would lose their appeal. Animal farming would not eliminate the need for habitat protection and anti-poaching measures, but would in fact increase their chances of success by discouraging further increases in the prices of products from wild animals. The idea is practical and workable. Especially because it does not require more bureaucracy.