According to Mike Archer, Dean of Science at the University of NSW, if we are to save the Australian environment we must “think ourselves into the country” and change our ideas about farming, urbanisation and conservation. Professor Archer believes in giving wildlife a commercial value and has written that:
“We must learn how to raise gum trees alongside sheep, graze kangaroos amid our cattle, grow finger licken’ bustard as well as chicken, and plant mallee trees alongside our wheat.”
So is it OK to farm tigers in China?
There was an article advocating the application of these “free-market principles” for the survival of endangered species in the New York Times earlier this week titled ‘Sell the Tiger to Save it’. The author, Barun Mitra, wrote:
“China joined the international effort to protect the tiger in 1993. But today there is a growing recognition among many Chinese officials that a policy of prohibition and trade restrictions has not benefited the tiger as much as it has helped poachers and smugglers of tigers and tiger parts.
Conservationists say the worldwide illegal trade in forest products and wildlife is between $10 billion and $12 billion, with more than half of that coming from Asia.
…But like forests, animals are renewable resources. If you think of tigers as products, it becomes clear that demand provides opportunity, rather than posing a threat. For instance, there are perhaps 1.5 billion head of cattle and buffalo and 2 billion goats and sheep in the world today. These are among the most exploited of animals, yet they are not in danger of dying out; there is incentive, in these instances, for humans to conserve.
So it can be for the tiger. In pragmatic terms, this is an extremely valuable animal. Given the growing popularity of traditional Chinese medicines, which make use of everything from tiger claws (to treat insomnia) to tiger fat (leprosy and rheumatism), and the prices this kind of harvesting can bring (as much as $20 for claws, and $20,000 for a skin), the tiger can in effect pay for its own survival. A single farmed specimen might fetch as much as $40,000; the retail value of all the tiger products might be three to five times that amount.”
I have an aversion to the idea of caging a wild animal and so the idea revolts me. But how do I justify my aversion? Is it cultural? Is it rational? Is it helpful?
A couple of weeks ago Libby Eyre sent me some links to article about the bushmeat trade in Africa*. Over-hunting to supply the increasing demand for this meat is apparently seriously threatening the survival of many species of forest animal including chimpanzees and gorillas. Bushmeat is even finding its way to downtown markets in New York and Paris. Libby commented:
“It is interesting to look at the bushmeat consumption in the west and compare to say the taste for whale or dog meat that some countries have. For example, in Australia we may not relish the thought of chowing down on a chow or chimp or minke (damn, doesn’t fit the alliteration), but some think it is OK to do so and perhaps even hip to eat something off the IUCN red list.
My comment here is more about how we perceive wildlife, social trends and conservation, rather than pointing a finger at any certain culture. There are the inevitable discussions about sustainability and wildlife management that spring from this too, but I was intrigued by the thought of a wealthy, well-educated Parisian woman serruptitiously purchasing a bushbuck burger because it was the next big thing that one has to have.”
If the bushmeat trade was legalized and regulated, would it really make a difference? Could it really help save chimpanzees and gorillas? Surely there is a better way!
*The email from Libby came with these links: