Answer by Rory Young:
The argument for the limited trade in endangered species products is that the money generated will be put back into the protection and management of the endangered species in question.
The obvious first question is whether or not the money does go into the protection of the endangered species.
There has been some controversy over this. There are many examples of countries claiming they need the money generated for conservation and then are shown to be doing nothing for the animals.
As a rule of thumb, countries who’s revenue from their wildlife areas goes into the central treasury tend not to whilst countries who’s revenues from wildlife related incomes do tend to put the money
It is important to look at the successes and failures of this policy in the past.
One of the biggest successes of allowing trade in an endangered species is the Nile Crocodile.
In the 1960s the Nile Crocodile was facing extinction. A combination of protected status, dedicated breeding sanctuaries and, controversially, sustainable-yield programs were introduced.
The details of these sustainable yield programs are important as there are crucial differences between species. It was believed that crocodile hatchlings had a 1 in 20 charge of surviving or 3% up to two years of age. Therefore a system was established whereby eggs would be collected and incubated and the crocodiles raised to two years of age (optimum food conversion point for slaughtering) at which point 5% would be released into the wild (the extra 2 percentage points meant to increase the population) and the rest harvested.
The whole plan worked extremely well and the populations shot up. This system has continued to this day in many countries. Recently it was discovered that certain populations were too large, such as Lake Kariba and subsequent studies revealed that the initial estimates of 3% of two-year-olds surviving were way out and were actually possibly as low as 0.3%.
It would be nice to imagine such a system could be applied to other species but that unfortunately is just not the case.
Let’s look now at the biggest current failure.
South Africa has continued alone to allow hunting of Rhinos despite the critical threat to their continued existence and for the first time in thirty years an American trophy hunter was recently allowed to import his rhino horn trophy into the US. Yet the rhino population in South Africa has this year started to produce less than are being poached, hunted legally and dying naturally.
Whether or not the legalized hunting/exploitation can help pay for the re-establishment of a species there reaches a point at which universal protect is the only answer.
The White Rhinoceros was reintroduced into Zimbabwe after going extinct there and the Black Rhinoceros was reintroduced to South Africa after being reintroduced there. Initially these new groups were kept in protected sanctuaries until the populations grew to a size where they could be hunted sustainably and then start paying for the protection and reintroduction or other endangered species. They didn’t reintroduce them and then start shooting them!!!
The issue is further complicated by the different situations in different regions. Kenya for example has a relatively small and dwindling population of elephants compared to Zimbabwe. Allowing Zimbabwe to sell ivory stockpiles (as happened in 1998 to Japan) may benefit Zimbabwe’s Parks coffers and therefore the reasoning goes protect the larger population, yet it is disastrous for Kenya’s smaller population. The problem with this reasoning is that it is not just about overall numbers that are important but geographical and genetic diversity. We need Kenya’s small population as much as we need Zimbabwe’s huge one.
I have become more and more convinced by Kenya’s arguments for a ban on all trade in ivory. However, I agree 100% with Zimbabwe’s attitude towards poaching. As long as poachers are armed shoot them and if captures up to seven years imprisonment (more for rhino horn). Kenya on the other hand fines them a couple of hundred dollars
So, no hunting of animals as endangered as Rhinos and go to town on the poachers; and as for the “need for the money” that can be found from other sources..