Sell the Tiger to Save It Conference

Ryan Balis attended the Competitive Enterprise Institute‘s “Sell the Tiger to Save It: A Private Conservation Proposal” conference today, and has filed a report for the blog:

How can private property rights, free markets and market incentives be used to save tigers? This was the topic of a spirited debate, “Sell the Tiger to Save It,” hosted at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). Providing opposing viewpoints were Barun Mitra, Director of the free market Liberty Institute in New Delhi, India, and Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

R.J. Smith, senior fellow here at the National Center (and an adjunct scholar in environmental policy at CEI), provided introductory remarks. Smith warned that business-as-usual regulatory efforts to preserve species are ineffective.

Wild things and wild places, particularly in habit, are vanishing everywhere. And simply passing laws and telling people they can’t use things or they can’t touch things or they have to be pushed off their land to make room for wildlife, as far as I can see, is not working. It has been a failure and probably doomed to be a failure as [human] population continues to grow.

Picking up on Smith’s remarks, Barun Mitra stressed that the market can be a tremendous tool for conservation: “One of the issues that has been particular to my heart is how to use the power of the market, economic power, to harness economic growth for conservation.”

Government regulations that nationalize all natural resources and prohibit the trade of protected tigers, do nothing to provide conservation incentives, argued Mitra. Instead of continuing this “socialist paradigm,” Mitra calls for private methods, an economic trigger, to truly benefit the tiger.

“We need to figure out a way to provide economic incentives for all the community and the people who live around it,” said Mitra. Private breeding farms that respect property rights recognize the supply and demand incentives necessary for the local population to preserve wildlife.

Grace Ge Gabriel, a native of China, responded that “selling out the tiger won’t save it.” Representing a coalition of wildlife conservation organizations, Gabriel argued that Mitra’s and Smith’s private conservation proposal is “a trade proposal; it is not a conservation proposal.”

Gabriel argued the reality is tigers are in great danger, despite international conservation conventions that ban the trade of tigers and their parts. “The South China Tiger is believed to have become virtually extinct in the wild,” said Gabriel.

Gabriel disputed that economics would help to save the tiger, citing the relatively high cost of $3,000 to $10,000 per tiger to maintain a private tiger breeding facility. Said Gabriel:

No amount of tiger farming can bring the price of tiger parts down to a level that renders poaching unprofitable. In short, tiger farming will do nothing to curb the incentives to poach. In fact, legalizing the trade of tiger parts from farmed tigers would more than likely stimulate market demand from old consumers who formerly were reluctant to buy illegal products and recruit new consumers…resulting in more poaching of wild tigers.

Gabriel also questioned whether the economic incentives of private farms actually benefit tigers. “The tigers bred in captivity can not ever be released back into the wild,” argued Gabriel. Citing work from the China Academy of Science, Gabriel said, “Farming aims to produce maximum amount of product by breeding as much as possible, breeding continuously and breeding preferentially from animals that are high yielders.”

As a consequence, Gabriel argued, “Farm breeding deliberately aims to narrow the gene pool, while the [purpose of] conservation breeding is to conserve it. Hence, any kind of population farmed for generations is genetically compromised and severely handicapped for wild survival.”

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.