Sunday, 22 November 2009

A surprising revelation about tiger and giant panda parts

Although my main focus in studying endangered species has always been the poaching of rhinos for their horn, I have long known that trading in tiger parts has been just as much a threat to tigers as rhino horn is to rhinos. However, tiger bone is much less expensive than rhino horn, costing as little as 38¢ per gram.

This cheapness has a mixed impact:
  • on one hand it discourages sellers from killing tigers
  • on the other hand it gives less incentive and money to conserve them
I discovered surprising news today searching for information of the current rhino poaching epidemic: that China alone - not including Taiwan or Hong Kong - is responsible for over 90 percent of trade in tiger bone and skins.

What this article reveals much more surprisingly, and which the average person interested in wildlife conservation would never have been told, is that for a time giant panda parts were sold as regularly as tiger parts for use in traditional Chinese medicine. However, under Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, the Chinese government cracked down on panda poachers to the point of even executing people for poaching giant pandas. It says that, despite Deng's crackdown, lack of habitat has prevented the giant panda from recovering.

However, the article shows that orders of magnitude more tigers could be supported in the available habitat without numbers kept very low by poaching. It also says that tigers are just as endangered as even Asiatic rhinos as a result of such poaching.

What is really interesting and even more surprising in this context is that the article argues that tiger farming is likely to make the problem worse. This is opposed to the argument of Robert P. Murphy in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, where he says that if tigers were completely privatised and deregulated incentive to conserve them would appear. Private owners would - and Murphy does not exclude violent means - stop poaching because they would be interested in long-term financial gain from tigers. This quest for long term financial gain would stop tigers becoming extinct and allow them to breed sufficiently to reach something approaching their carrying capacity. People like Hans Hoppe argue that private ownership without any government regulation will eliminate incentives to waste resources. However, the fact that animals like the passenger pigeon became extinct before the first Progressive wave makes one question the strictest interpretation of what Hoppe says.

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