Ownership and legalised trading is the only way to ensure protection for endangered species
By Timothy Cox
Friday, March 12, 2010
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) opens in Qatar this weekend. Top of the agenda will be Tanzania and Zambia’s request to sell their ivory stockpiles on the international market: trading in ivory and other “Appendix I” species is currently outlawed. Putting aside the merits of their individual cases, it is crucial that CITES recognises that endangered species and habitats are best protected when local people are allowed a vested interest in their preservation. Allowing communities to profit from conservation is the only way to ensure the survival of some of the world’s most endangered species.
The existing trade ban has spectacularly failed to deter poaching of species such as the Black Rhino. There are fewer than 4,500 Black Rhinos alive today with poaching rising to a 15 year high in 2009. Cherry picked statistics may tell a different story, but the reality is that Black Rhinos are now precipitously close to extinction and the current trade restriction methods are not working.
Furthermore, prohibition on trade has had a number of unintended negative consequences. First, it has driven prices sky high. Since being prohibited, in 1976, the market value of rhino horn has increased from $100 per kg to over $5000 per kg: a horn sold today in China equates to about 15 years average wages in Zambia. This has hugely incentivised poaching.
Secondly, the ban withdraws a lucrative source of income which could be invested in conservation projects. If local communities were able to sell animal parts overseas (rather than being restricted to local markets), they would have stronger incentives to sustain and protect their animals and their habitats. Under the existing system, these incentives are substantially reduced. Many conservation projects are unable to afford adequate anti-poaching measures.
Ultimately, conservation must compete with other human demands for land usage. Existing trade restrictions skew the incentives wildly in favour of poaching gangs and offer little to those trying to make conservation profitable. Private land ownership and liberalised trading would go some way to helping redress this balance.