I heartily recommend Barun Mitra’s op-ed column in today’s New York Times on the importance of property rights in the conservation of the tiger:
Yet for the last 30 or so years, the tiger has been priced at zero, while millions of dollars have been spent to protect it and prohibit trade that might in fact help save the species. Despite the growing environmental bureaucracy and budgets, and despite the proliferation of conservationists and conferences, the tiger is as close to extinction as it has been since Project Tiger, a conservation project backed in part by the World Wildlife Fund, was launched in 1972 and adopted by the government of India a year later.
If we truly value the tiger, this crisis presents an opportunity to help it buy its way out of the extinction it now faces. The tiger breeds easily, even in captivity; zoos in India are constantly told by the Central Zoo Authority not to breed tigers because they are expensive to maintain. In China, which has about 4,000 tigers in captivity, breeding has been perfected. According to senior officials I met in China, given a free hand, the country could produce 100,000 tigers in the next 10 to 15 years.
Yes, precisely. Instead of pricing the tiger at zero and creating a profit opportunity for poachers, why not enable the business of tiger farming? That’s what kept the bison from going extinct in the 19th century. Defining property rights over resources that have value, including wildlife, increases the likelihood that they will avoid extinction due to poaching.
Another great resource on tigers is Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes’ PERC Policy Series analysis from 1998. His thorough analysis includes references to a lot of valuable field experts, including Mitra.
Don Boudreaux’s take on the article is much the same as mine; no surprise, there.