Economic Theory

Want to protect wildlife? Assign property rights and turn it into a commodity


In April of this year Kenya wantonly destroyed some US$110 million of ivory, rhino horn and other wildlife products in what was described at the time as an ineffective, self-seeking publicity stunt, an opinion borne out by the recent release of data from the Great Elephant Census, funded by Paul Allen, showing the loss of some 30% of the elephant population over the last decade and a more recent increase in loss rates. A further devastating report by eminent Kenyan scientists, released this month, censured Kenya’s conservation efforts: despite the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in wildlife conservation by international and national agencies, NGOs and private donors, Kenya has lost 70% of her wildlife over the last 40 years.

Yet wallowing in self-righteousness following the destruction of her ivory stocks, Kenya will be in the vanguard at the forthcoming CITES meeting in Johannesburg of those supporting the intensification of the ban on both the international and domestic ivory trade and for the iconoclastic destruction of all stocks of ivory.

Wildlife conservation policy in international forums like CITES has been highjacked by an extremist, almost religious, alliance of animal welfare lobbyists who oppose any wildlife utilisation or trade. This will lead to an inevitable further decline of wildlife throughout Africa.

Like it or not, there is compelling evidence that wildlife in Africa flourishes, and more land is made available for it, where there are wider rather than narrower opportunities for economic utilisation; where ownership and user rights are more, rather than less, devolved to landowners and users; where wildlife-generated revenues are shared equitably and transparently between producers and consumers; and where the wildlife conservation authorities adopt an enabling rather than a purely enforcement and regulatory role.

In South Africa, where wildlife became fully fungible (in de Soto’s terms), wildlife numbers increased more than twenty times over the same period of time that protectionist Kenya lost 70% of hers.

It is indeed extraordinary that despite her totally abysmal record in conservation, Kenya is hailed as an exemplar by the international conservation community, while the South Africans, who have so successfully conserved and succoured their wildlife, are treated as pariahs.

These Ivory Wars championed by Kenya simply cannot be won: the required resources will never be mobilised, neither is there the political will, while the collateral damage within Africa becomes ever greater and more onerous. The only way forward is for an Ivory Peace: if Africa’s Asian friends and partners are willing to invest millions in infrastructure and natural resources development, they will also invest in elephant conservation and ivory production, so long as they are guaranteed in return a dependable, transparent and legal supply.

Both sides want the same thing, lots of elephants and lots of ivory — a very good starting point for meaningful negotiation. No peace process is easy, but if it can be achieved in South Africa then it should not be beyond the whit of mankind to achieve the same elsewhere.


2 thoughts on “Want to protect wildlife? Assign property rights and turn it into a commodity”

  1. Posted 29/09/2016 at 15:16 | Permalink

    I am at the CITES CoP 17 now, and there are no signs that the anti-utilisation NGOs are willing to give more than lip-service to ‘community involvement’, as they term it. These NGOs are inherently distrustful of local communities who live with wildlife and they do not think rural Africans are capable of managing the wildlife. Because of money and power afforded to them by an uncritical media promoting their causes, and repeating endlessly a bunch of myths about the causes of poaching, the prohibitionist NGOs are winning. The showdown comes Monday with the elephant and rhino horn trade proposals coming up. The pro-trade proposals will no doubt lose. The end result will be wildlife restricted to islands of protected areas, eradicated everywhere else.

  2. Posted 29/09/2016 at 17:13 | Permalink

    South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania and other like-minded countries have to unilaterally pull out of CITES as a block or their game animals and industry will be destroyed by the animal rights NGOs and their followers.
    These people don’t care if the game is destroyed by disease, poaching and other means – they just hate the idea that money can be made from proper, sustainable utilisation of game and they hate even more that many people actually enjoy hunting.

    John Coleman

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