“The Sustainable Development Network (SDN), a coalition of people-oriented conservation groups, today called upon delegates to the CITES meeting in The Hague to reconsider the ban on sale of tiger parts, which it says is undermining effective conservation by reducing the incentives to manage tigers sustainably and increasing the number of wild tigers that are poached. The SDN argues that trade in certified farmed tiger parts could meet existing and future demand, thereby reducing pressure on wild tigers.
“The conservation community has for many years been split over whether commerce in endangered species is desirable. While the evidence has increasingly suggested that commerce must be part of the solution, opponents of commerce have dominated the debate. As a result, restrictions on commerce have become the cornerstone of conservation policies, with the consequence that tigers and several other species have been driven to the verge of extinction in the wild.
“One fundamental problem is that by making trade in these wildlife products illegal, the trade has been driven underground. As Kirsten Conrad, a tiger conservation expert, notes, “Despite legal protection over most of its range, prohibition of international trade, anti-poaching efforts, and millions spent by NGOs and governments, demand for tiger parts shows no sign of abating.”
“Recent estimates put the value of illegal trade in wildlife at over US $6 billion a year – which would make it the third most traded illicit product after drugs and arms. Indian policy analyst and developer of SDN’s Sustainable Tiger Initiative, Barun Mitra, puts it succinctly: “When trade is outlawed, only outlaws trade.”
“Some of the poorest people in the world live in close proximity to tigers and other valuable resources, yet they have little incentive to conserve and manage those resources sustainably, because they are not allowed to own or trade in them. As a result, only criminals and smugglers profit from poaching. This is bad for the people who share the tiger’s habitat and very bad for tigers.
“The contrast with crocodiles – another large carnivore – could not be more stark. Three million crocodiles are farmed each year in facilities as disparate as Australia, South Africa and the United States – enabling the demand for crocodile parts to be met legally, while massively reducing 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.
“As Mr Mitra, whose Liberty Institute was a founding member of the SDN, puts it “The only market failure in tiger conservation is the failure to let markets operate.”
“In the new proposal – the “Save the Tiger Initiative” – the SDN outlines ways of enabling people to own and sell tigers, which would provide incentives for a range of commercial activities, from eco-tourism to breeding tigers and trading in tiger parts. Under this proposal, the SDN believes that the tiger, which is such a charismatic and culturally rich species, can become economically viable and thereby survive in the wild.
“Kirsten Conrad explains why she supports the SDN Initiative: “While all this sounds cold-blooded—tigers are not tubs of margarine nor domestic livestock— conservationists do not have the luxury of ignoring the distasteful but possibly effective strategy of allowing trade in captive-bred tigers, at least not if they are truly intent on saving the tiger from extinction.”
Barun Mitra concluded, “The tiger could easily earn its keep and buy its way out of extinction – if we allow it to do so,” adding that cooperation between China and India offers the best hope for this mighty but endangered beast.
“NOTE: The 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is currently taking place in The Hague (3-15 June 2007). Asian big cats are on the agenda under “Species trade and conservation issues” but some countries want the topic dropped.
“The Sustainable Development Network is a coalition of individuals and non-governmental organizations who believe in a people-oriented view of sustainable development.
End of Media Release.