Friday, August 18, 2006

Tiger Conservation

The EDS Corporation's cat herding commercial is good for a laugh, but Barun Mitra--director of the Liberty Institute--is entirely serious about tiger ranching in China and India. According to Mitra, tiger pelts sell for as much as $20,000 on the black market and growing demand for traditional Chinese medicines makes other parts of the tiger lucrative as well. The currently illegal trade in tigers and tiger parts presents an increasingly valuable opportunity for poachers. Poaching, in turn, plays a significant role in keeping the tiger close to extinction. Mitra believes a legal market for tiger parts will save the tiger from extinction. Read his op-ed column in The New York Times to see why.

1. What is the current approach to tiger conservation in India and China?

2. Mitra points out that farmers and ranchers have a strong incentive to ensure that marketable species of livestock (sheep, cattle, chickens, and the like) do not go extinct. Does his argument for conservation through market mechanisms apply to other wild endangered species? Do tigers need to be ranched like cattle in order to give humans an incentive to conserve them?

3. Consider an alternative to outright tiger ranching. Mitra cites a program in Zimbabwe where villagers had property rights on local wildlife. How did the villagers use their property rights to earn money? What conservation incentives did they face? Would similar programs in China and India reduce the threat of tiger extinction? How would villagers with property rights on tigers feel about poachers?

4. Is poaching the only thing keeping tigers close to extinction? What about habitat encroachment? Could a legal market in tiger parts or licensed tiger hunting help to preserve tiger habitat?

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