African elephant © iStock
Why don’t wildlife trade bans work?
Trade bans don’t work because they ignore the legitimate rights of communities that live with wildlife to manage their resources; they disregard the concerns of thousands of people who make a living from the trade; and they deprive consumers of products that they desire. All three of these stakeholder groups then work to undermine the bans. Bans stimulate corruption and black markets, which worsens the plight of both wildlife and local people.
How would a legal trade in rare species work?
A trade system would have to be devised that satisfies all the concerned parties – local communities, governments, businessmen, consumers and conservationists. The trade would have to be sustainable and not endanger the wild species.
The vicuña and many crocodile species have been saved from extinction by legal trade, and many species of plants, reptiles and birds are traded sustainably, though improvements could be made in many cases.
Could legalising trade make things worse?
Yes, if some stakeholders are ignored and if both suppliers and buyers are not included in the trade system design. A regular supply at an acceptable and fair price is critical. Previous attempts at legal trade have not included any of these criteria for success, so of course failed on many fronts.
Could it work for rhinos and elephants?
Not only could it work for rhinos and elephants, it might be the only way to save them, but I would advocate trade in products only, not live animals.
With no competition from any legal trade, horn and ivory traffickers are having a field day – the last thing they want is to see it legalised. In this sense, perhaps anti-trade campaigners have something in common with wildlife traffickers?
This article first appeared in the October 2017 issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine
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