Save The Tiger: Sell It
IPN Opinion article
New Indian Express
At the 171-nation UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which concluded at The Hague on June 15, China was criticised for reviewing a 1993 ban on domestic trade in tiger parts for fear that any sales could drive wild cats to extinction. Many nations, including India, Russia , Nepal, Bhutan and the United States, feel that "any domestic Chinese sales would simply encourage poachers to cash in and shoot remaining tigers in the wild around Asia".
However, even as the Convention was being held, members of the Sustainable Development Network (SDN) strongly urged delegates to reconsider the ban on sale of tiger parts. An international coalition of think tanks and NGOs, SDN argues that trade in certified farmed tiger parts could meet existing and future demand, thereby reducing pressure on wild tigers.
Despite the scepticism of conservationists worldwide, Barun Mitra, head of the Liberty Institute in New Delhi , and founding member of SDN, argues that legalising trade would go a long way towards conserving this highly endangered species. Besides alleviating the poverty of people living near forest areas.
China and CITES
"The CITES resolution can be read very differently," says Mitra. "The resolution actually accepts China's role in captive breeding for the cause of conservation, which is what China and India had agreed to in 1995." But since then we couldn't progress since environmentalists and conservationists said that captive breeding has no role in tiger conservation, he adds.
Secondly, the resolution says that China should restrict captive breeding for purpose of conservation and not commerce. "CITES is a convention that governs international trade in flora and fauna, particularly endangered species. China, so far, has not sought to reopen trade in tiger parts, domestic or international," says Mitra. " China is only seeking to review all aspects of tiger conservation. Also, breeding and trade in tiger or their parts for the domestic Chinese market, if decided, is outside the purview of CITES."
''When trade is outlawed, only outlaws trade''
Making the trade in these products illegal has only driven it underground, states Mitra. The artificial scarcity created by trade restrictions in turn raises prices, providing criminals with incentives to smuggle animals and animal parts. "In India, you can get someone to kill a tiger for as little as 50 dollars" he says. "But the effort of getting the tiger bones from India to Tibet to China is Herculean and by the time it reaches China, one kg of tiger bone will fetch 1,000 dollars."
Crocs and conservation
"The best illustration of a large carnivorous animal being saved from extinction because of ranching and farming are crocodiles," says Mitra. "Crocodile farming has become very big business and about 2.9 million worth of crocodile skin is imported to Europe from all over the world every year to meet the demand of the fashion industry." This massively reduces the pressure on wild crocs. In 1971, all of the world's 23 species of crocodile were classified as endangered; now, the eight farmed species are no longer threatened and populations of eight other species have recovered
Many poor people living near forest areas have no stake in the environmental resources in their neighbourhood. By recognising their rights to forest and wildlife, we can give them an incentive to manage these resources in a sustainable manner, says Mitra.
He points out that the breeding facilities would have to necessarily be in rural or forest areas, and could open up opportunities for employment, or related activities. For instance, if the tiger is to be bred, then there has to be a large chain of industries like poultry or pig farms, to feed the tigers. Many of the tiger breeding facilities could themselves become tourist attractions.
By legalising trade, we will also reduce or eliminate the pressure from poachers, because small-scale poachers and smugglers cannot compete with legal commercial operators. So the wildlife areas would become more economically viable, making eco-tourism, etc, more attractive. Thus providing further economic opportunities for the rural population.
"In the US, wildlife and outdoor recreation, which includes, fishing, bird watching, nature trail, hunting, etc. generated economic activities worth US $ 120 billion in 2006," says Mitra. "Just think what a biodiversity rich country like India can do if we can find a way of capitalising on our natural resources."
In the eye of the storm
Though the Government of India and most NGOs have been against his proposals, Mitra holds that while he has heard a lot of emotional responses, he is yet to hear substantive criticism.
This idea is quite counter-intuitive, says Mitra. But there is hardly a species, under the umbrella of commerce, which has gone extinct, from cattle to crocodiles.