Do legal markets “stimulate demand” for wildlife

One of the main arguments used by animal welfare and conservation NGOs against legal markets for wildlife products like ivory and rhino horn is the markets “stimulate” demand. For example, NGOs have argued that the one off ivory sale stimulated demand in China and explains today’s poaching crisis. However, there is no statistical evidence proving that is the case. Indeed recent research by Gao Yufang argues that ivory demand is due to five different cultural factors including appreciation of aesthetics, cultural and religious values. these values are not formed by bureaucrats in an international meeting, but rather through cultural, religious and economic development over time.

The competing argument used by advocates of trade is that the legal trade in wildlife can be used to displace the illegal trade. This is not a new competition of ideas.

The IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group in 1976 reported on how crocodile farmers were seeking to replace wild sourced hides with captive bred stock despite conservationist’s fears that farmed hided would “stimulate but fail to satisfy increased demands for crocodilian products” (IUCN SSC Crocodile Specialist Group Proceedings of the 3rd Working Meeting, Gland, Switzerland 1976).

Almost 40 years on, the crocodilian industry, according to John Hutton and Grahame Webb writing in The Trade in Wildlife, has demonstrated that ranching crocs for the legal market can be both an economic and conservation success. The “illegal trade, which flourished before CITES encouraged legal trade, has been all but eradicated”.

Writing in 2003, the authors dismiss this competition of hypotheses about whether legal trade “stimulates demand” or not as a “sterile debate” from which we must move on. The “main challenge now must be to establish under exactly what conditions legal trade displaces illegal trade so that wildlife trade systems can be better designed and managed in the future”.

Indeed the debate does seem sterile and a more intellectually interesting and honest approach is to understand further what these conditions where legal trade can displace illegal trade are. We know they revolve around strong property rights, good governance, the biological characteristics of species and so on, but more empirical work is needed.

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Priority actions under CITES

CITES has posted a useful summary of the main outcomes from the annual meeting of its Standing Committee last week. Several areas relating to ongoing ITC work include:

The need to understand more about characteristics of demand for wildlife products from Traditional Chinese Medicine – ITC is planning a literature review, particularly with respect to rhino horn.

Support for traceability in python skin supply chains – ITC is working with Kering and IUCN Boa and Python Specialist Species Group on this issue in Viet Nam and Indonesia.

Madagascar Nile Crocodile trade ban lifted, although subject for a year to a zero export quota to allow time for inventories to be made – ITC will work with Kering and IUCN Specialist Crocodile Group on strengthening sustainability of sourcing and livelihoods associated with the trade.

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Wildlife consumption in China

In Conservation and Biology, an article on wildlife consumption in China

Although attitudes are changing towards a recognition that wildlife should not be consumed, there has been little change in wildlife consumption in China:

“An attitudinal survey on wildlife consumption and conservation awareness was conducted in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kunming and Nanning of China recently. Comparison with the results from a similar survey we did in 2004, after 8 years, the proportion of respondents who had consumed wildlife was dropped slightly from 31.3 % down to 29.6 %. I

The results also showed that 52.7 % agreed that wildlife should not be consumed, which was significantly increased comparison with the survey result of 42.7 % in 2004.

Consumers with higher income and higher educational background were having higher wildlife consumption rate”.

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CITES Standing Committee – Day 2 snippets

ITC is attending the CITES Standing Committee (its annual meeting) this week. The week long meeting attracts 140 or so Party delegates (national environment officials) and another hundred of so NGO and international organization observers.
ITC has taken the opportunity to present its work on biodiversity at several side events during the week.
ITC’s press release explains further and I shall blog at a later date about some of the content:

Outside of organizing the side events, I have found some time to listen in to the discussion between Parties on the many different resolutions relating to trade in wildlife. One snippet today is the discussion on the poaching crisis of elephants. On one aspect of this, many Parties believe that destroying stockpiles “sends a message” that the ivory trade is wrong. They also advocate reducing demand and using legal measures to stop the illegal trade. Kenya for example took the view that this is the right route to “winning this war”. Notably, South Africa and Namibia stood out with an alternative said today that they believe that ivory stocks should not be destroyed as they are a national resource as enshrined in the national constitution of the former.

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Both wildlife law enforcement and sustainable use failing in Indonesia

The Brooking Institute published a report on the illegal trade in birds and other wildlife in Indonesia. Authored by Vanda Velbab-Brown, it concludes that neither sustainable use or law enforcement strategies are working. The key lies in reducing consumer demand. A fine report that begs the question, if and how can demand be reduced.

The story is a familiar one. Poverty drives people to collect animals. Cultural preferences drive ever great demand for bushmeat, Traditional Chinese Medicine ingredients and pets. As a result, the forests are being cleaned out of their fauna. Eco-tourism is used to offer alternative livelihoods to poachers but as in Madagascar, the initiatives are fragile. in one initiative for example, when supply of eco tourists fell, the pressure from poaching intensified again. Countries like Kenya are more suitable for safaris and eco-tourism that more remote regions.

Success is also predicated on wider institutional factors.

“Just as in the case of alternative livelihoods for illicit drugs, success is predicated on well-enforced property rights, the availability of microcredit, good infrastructure, and other structural factors. Crucially, it also depends on well-established value-added chains and assured markets, neither of which are developed easily in remote areas where forests or biodiversity-rich savannahs still exist”.

Law enforcement is not working either as enforcement agencies have “no interest or means to counter illegal wildlife trade”. Furthermore,  “…poachers and wildlife traffickers rarely face law enforcement action, frequently bribing their way out of punishment in Indonesia’s notoriously corrupt courts. If they are sent prison at all, it is usually for a few weeks at most”.

So both sustainable use and law enforcement strategies are not working in Indonesia. What prospects are there to save Indonesia’s animal biodiversity. The author argues that the key is reducing demand.

“Beefed up law enforcement action against wildlife trafficking and illegal fishing is critical. Providing effective alternative livelihoods for poor hunters is a policy that enhances human rights and human security as well as greatly facilitates law enforcement. Unfortunately, alternative livelihoods efforts are rarely effective, with auspicious circumstances mostly lacking and structural problems difficult to overcome. Ultimately, there are great limits to what even much more effective law enforcement and much more effective alternative livelihoods can accomplish unless demand for wildlife products around the world, and particularly in East Asia, is rapidly reduced. So far, demand reduction efforts in the region for bushmeat and Traditional Chinese Medicine have registered thinner, even if somewhat improving, results than demand reduction efforts to reduce the consumption of illicit drugs. But time is running out for Indonesia’s magnificent biodiversity –both on land and in the sea”.

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