Tiger Trade Ban & Myth of Free Market Economics
Written by Dr Vandana Prakash
Published on May 17th, 2009
in About Animals, In Asia
Some lobbyists are pushing for removal of a ban on trading tiger body parts, citing the importance of a free market economy. The argument claims that the ban must be lifted because it has failed to address the issue head-on. However, as it stands the argument is a falsity used with clear intent of misinforming. The practice of raising tigers in the farms to re-populate in the wild, as of now, seems as facetious. Tiger-farms do great injustice to Traditional Chinese Medicine when they seek to justify their breeding of tigers for their parts for practice of TCM and the associated lifestyle.
Saving the tiger has become an issue fraught with much discussion — and much of it is ill-informed and misleading. On the one hand are the tiger-farm lobby and the so-called “believers of free-market economics” such as John Stossel (ABC 20/20) , Terry Anderson (PERC) and Barun Mitra (Liberty Institute). They want to lift the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ban and favor open trade in tiger-parts. They cite the apparent failure of the ban as the primary reason for lifting the ban. Their arguments, they say, derive from free-market economics. On the other hand are numerous (possibly insignificant because they lack the voice) individuals who, lacking voice, have opted for the exit option and have modified their behavior to save the most charismatic of animals, the wild tiger. Alongside are many governments and many, many NGOs that struggle to save the tiger from extinction, that struggle to keep our world one species richer and which work to enable our future generations to look at the king of the forest, the tiger, in reality, not just in picture-books. Apart from humane motives, their arguments are supported by economists, sociologists, zoologists, conservation-biologists, etc.
The proponents of lifting the tiger-trade ban seek to justify their opting for opening the trade in tiger-parts on grounds of free-market economics. Virtues of the free-markets are known; however, much time and effort of economists since Adam Smith has gone in establishing that conditions exist that may render regulation and intervention in free-markets necessary. Free-markets are not a panacea and must not be thought of as a cure-all, especially not at the cost of the weak. Vices of the free-market are also well-established: we cannot ignore its inability to regulate and balance and we cannot ignore the ravages of the free-market in the form of poverty. The free-market fails to work in favor of those who lack the purchasing power and hardly ever favors the weak. So, how can we let the invisible hand of the market determine the fate of the wild tiger?
The arguments that CITES ban must be lifted because it has failed needs to be addressed heads-on as it is a falsity used with clear intent of misinforming. In effect, the CITES ban has been a success. Even though its task can hardly be considered done, the ban has successfully averted the threat of the extinction of the tiger by 1999. It is only on account of such consciousness and continuous action that the tiger population in Russian Far-East has grown from 40 to 400 in post-world war II era.
The argument of raising tigers in the farms to re-populate in the wild, as of now, seems as facetious. Thus far no successful re-introduction of the farmed tigers into the wild has been done. The very fact of their farmed existence has been at the root of the failure to reintroduce: tigers become so accustomed to humans and managed lifestyle of tiger-farms that they are not only unable to adjust to the wild but also actively seek human establishments and get killed in the process. Conservationists, then, rightly oppose this practice of raising tigers on farms to populate the wild on the grounds that the farmed animal is not truly representative of the wild one as it lacks the necessary skills that have developed in the tigers by virtue of life in the wild.
Tiger-farms do great injustice to Traditional Chinese Medicine when they seek to justify their breeding of tigers for their parts for practice of TCM and the associated lifestyle. With much difficulty, conviction and hard work, TCM has eliminated tiger-medicine from its pharmacopoeia. A lot of effort has also gone into developing viable alternatives to such practices: Experiments have been done to establish that dog, pig, lamb or other mammals’ bones provide similar elements to the tiger- bone. Where lifestyle is concerned the common-person surely deserves credit for having adapted their preferences. Naturally, all this has been done with a wish to save the tiger in the wild. To use them as an excuse to offload the 4000 or so carcasses that the tiger-farms are saddled with is not only wrong, it is also doing great injustice to one’s own countrymen.
If the hyperbolic titles (Better Bred than Dead or How to Save Endangered Species: Kill Them?) do not alert a careful reader to the possibility of lack of substance, the lack of logic surely must caution them. The arguments that selling the farmed tiger will prevent poaching: More than ever sound like the mouthpiece of the tiger-farms here. How is this ever likely to happen when farming the tiger is much more costly — by ten to hundred times — than simply having one poisoned by a poacher? In fact, hypothetically speaking, in the absence of scientific detection techniques what is to prevent anyone (including a tiger-farmer) from “laundering” poached parts as farmed ones in order to gain much greater profits? Even simple calculations revel why poaching will be favored over costly rearing in farms if the ban is lifted.
Same propogandists of the “ban’s failure in saving the tiger” point to the mysterious disappearance of tigers completely from one reserve in India. Indeed, this is a sad tragedy but when all is taken into account it should not be dismissed as a complete mystery: It is not unreasonable to hazard a guess; especially in an environment where poaching has hastened the disappearance of the tiger from China, Korea, Vietnam and is also responsible for much killing in the reserves of India. In final analysis, should we let these stories of corruption and mismanagement convince us to throw the baby out with the bath-water?
On balanced consideration, a direct approach with better enforcement and larger, trans-boundary reserves seems the right way to go to conserve the wild tiger rather than trying iffy- experiments of tiger-farms and lifting of the tiger trade ban.
Moderator, International Tiger Coalition
Wildlife Trade Advisor, Conservation International
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