Does Legalizing Trade Help or Hurt?

Would legal trade in farmed tiger products increase or decrease poaching of wild tigers? The topic, which is explored in this article, has been at the forefront of many discussions at CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) meetings, and is coming up again as government officials from tiger ranges states and conservationists prepare to meet in St. Petersburg for the upcoming Tiger Summit.

With a major sting coordinated by Interpol in 6 tiger range states resulting in the arrest of 25 individuals suspected of taking part in an illicit tiger trade ring and seizure of 50 kg of tiger bone, and a rare Siberian tiger poached two days ago (Nov 16, 2010) near Vladivostok, Russia, clearly the situation is precarious–perhaps too much so for experimentation with legalizing tiger products.

While tigers are at the forefront today, what happens in this venue could have implications elsewhere, particularly vis-a-vis elephant ivory and rhino horn. The recent upsurge in rhino poaching is leading to calls by some to legalize rhino horn from game farms and dehorned rhinos to protect the animals, even though dehorned rhinos have also  been shot. So far, we don’t know the answer — although experience with one-off sales of southern African elephant ivory, that have been accompanied by an apparent increase in poaching of elephants in Kenya, indicates we should be extremely cautious.