Conservation Through Commerce

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To many people the words “conservation” and “commerce” are anathema. And in fact, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was set up for the express purpose of divorcing the two (by banning trade in endangered species CITES attempts to destroy the value of those species). But are they really incompatible? According to a growing number of conservationists, and a number of initiatives, particularly in southern Africa, they are not just compatible, but inextricably linked.

Conservationists who have experimented with and used both conservation and commerce in tandem have been involved in some of the most heartening conservation success stories in recent years. And so in the Spring of 1998, in the shadow of Earth Day, an exploration of just how one might achieve conservation through commerce was a natural topic for a forum on “The Promise of Private Conservation,” hosted by the Center for Private Conservation and held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The forum was one of a series of events hosted by the Center for Private Conservation to focus attention on the role of private institutions and markets in encouraging and supporting conservation efforts.

The experts on the panel were gathered from around the world, and included Clive Stockil from the Savé Valley Conservancy in Zimbabwe, Grahame Webb from Wildlife Management International in Australia and Steve Edwards from IUCN’s (the World Conservation Union) Washington, DC office.

The panel was moderated by Ike Sugg from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. These distinguished panelists explored how individuals and communities around the world, given the right institutional arrangements, have been able to use the value of wildlife to improve conditions for both people and animals. The success of those efforts that have melded conservation and commerce have helped change attitudes toward conservation and commerce throughout the international environmental community. Two of the panelists have been instrumental in two very dramatic species recovery programs, for the saltwater crocodile in the Northern Territories of Australia, and for the black rhino in Zimbabwe, which is certainly not out of danger, but is finally increasing for the first time in decades. Their insights are particularly telling – in each case it was the moment that people began to realize the value of these species that things started to turn around.