Species Conservation — Turtles and Tigers

A recent Reuters article and video noted the plight of the leatherbacked turtles as it reported on the release of hundreds of baby turtles on the east coast of Malaysia by conservationists. Yet, the article noted:

Despite strict laws banning egg sales, moves to safeguard nesting sites and efforts to build hatcheries, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) warned last year that the number of leatherback turtles had plummeted because of egg harvesting and turtle hunting.

Just last week at a CEI seminar, Barun Mitra, head of the Liberty Institute in New Delhi, India, used the example of tiger conservation in China to show that economic incentives and private ownership may provide a better model for species preservation than prohibitions on use and sale of wildlife. See his earlier New York Times op ed on this topic, “Sell the Tiger to Save It.”

At present there is no incentive for forest dwellers to protect tigers, and so poachers, traffickers and unscrupulous traders prevail. The temptation of high profits, in turn, attracts organized crime; this is what happens when government regulations subvert the law of supply and demand.

But tiger-breeding facilities will ensure a supply of wildlife at an affordable price, and so eliminate the incentive for poachers and, consequently, the danger for those tigers left in the wild. With selective breeding and the development of reintroduction techniques, it might be possible to return the tiger to some of its remaining natural habitats. And by recognizing the rights of the local villagers to earn legitimate revenue from wildlife sources, the tiger could stage a comeback.

In a CEI study in the mid 1990s, CEI adjunct scholar R.J. Smith succinctly stated the issue when he wrote:

Why are some species disappearing and others thriving? In those cases where human activity has contributed to species declines, it is clear that the problem of overexploitation or overharvesting is a result of the resources being under public rather than private ownership. Wherever we have public ownership we find overuse, waste, and extinction; but private ownership results in sustained-yield use and preservation.