I had an engaging conversation with a South African guest last night who has worked on and off in the wildife conservation field, particularly with respect to poaching of endangered animals. The question we got into was whether it is better to farm animals such as rhino and tigers in order to satisfy the demand, or whether it is better to try to eliminate the trade in these animals completely.
One of the biggest controverseys surrounding farming is animal welfare and the poor treatment of tigers and especially bears. But lets set that aside as, in theory, treatment of animals on a farm can always be improved. Should we encourage animal farms to trade in endangered species' parts?
On the one hand, it perpetuates the demand and by extension, the market for poached animal parts. On the other hand, by providing a stable supply, we can lower the price to a point where poachers can't compete. In addition, legally farming animals such as tigers is much easier than finding, killing, and smuggling wild specimens. With rhinos, farming offers particular benefits as rhino horns can be trimmed and still re-grow. One need not excessively harm the rhino in order to harvest its horn.
This guest also offered an economics argument for why efforts to eliminate the trade in endangered animals will never succeed: The demand for animal parts is inelastic, meaning that as the price climbs, consumers are willing to pay more rather than reduce their demand. This means that the more rare animal parts are, the more economic incentive poachers have to harvest them. In other words, as anti-poaching efforts succeed the incentive to absorb the risk and costs of poaching increases as well. Anti-poaching is fighting an uphill battle on a hill that just keeps growing.
Does this argument sound convincing, or do you think that farms merely offer a backdoor for poachers to access a legitimate market?