The main problem with wildlife conservation is that it’s based on bans rather than trade, as Prince William highlighted so effectively yesterday by seizing the wrong end of the rhino horn (sorry).
When you ban something, its value goes up, encouraging criminal exploitation (in the case of ivory, rhino horn, tiger parts etc poaching and smuggling).
But if you trade it, you encourage investment in production (i.e. farming). There’s no lack of sheep in the world.
The unfortunate result of the ban on the trade in tiger parts, for example, is that the remaining 2-3,000 wild tigers are being poached to extinction, while the 5,000 farmed tigers in China are starving to death because their owners are banned from selling them and so can’t afford to feed them.
The only way you can trade in exotic wild animals at the moment is by charging people to look at them. This is great as far as it goes – zoos in rich countries are the main means of saving rare breeds from extinction, and the popularity of nature documentaries has encouraged the growth of wildlife tourism in Africa, India and elsewhere.
But there’s a serious limitation to this. Most of the interesting animals live in poor, hot countries, where the climate suits a greater variety of animals and, until recently, the locals didn’t have the means to exterminate them. But poor people don’t have the time or money or sentimentality to conserve wildlife. It’s difficult to preserve the integrity of wildlife parks, and anyway expensive for tourists to get there.
By contrast, rich countries like Britain are very good at conservation. The trouble is we wiped out the few interesting species we had long ago, and so are reduced to spending fortunes on saving corncrakes and water voles. Where exotic megafauna (as us experts like to call them) do exist in rich countries, they thrive – polar bears in Canada and Norway, for example, or crocodiles in Australia.
The obvious answer is to establish populations of large, rare animals in the emptier parts of rich countries. So lions, Bengal tigers and elephants should run free in Australia and the US. And wolves, bears and Siberian tigers should be introduced to Scotland.
I can hear the objections already. Siberian tigers are not native to Scotland! So what? Nor are Frisian cows. And they might eat people / sheep! Well, if that argument is valid, then we can hardly blame Africans for exterminating their lions, can we?
The Kruger of the North! HQ Balmoral, with Prince William as patron. Shooting in season only.