The idea of the fame elephants of Africa disappearing from the continent, and our very eyes, is a rather sad notion. After all, the elephants are one of the smartest animals that walk this earth, and humanity should endeavor to ensure that they will continue to habitat with us.
For the conservationists who (understandably) want to protect certain endangered species, their answer is often using government force to ban harvesting and commercial use of that animal’s parts.
The unintended consequence of that method is that the value of that animal’s parts is much higher, and poaching becomes more lucrative. Just like during Prohibition in the early 20th century in the United States, the ban only created bigger problems than the one that the government tried to address.
So let’s expand our horizons on this issue, thinking past just government action as the best strategy for conservation efforts. Government may have some legitimate role in establishing certain boundaries for environmental protection, but the most efficient and effective way to protect the environment and endangered species is not through the State, but through private individuals acting in their own interest.
In other words, the solution is privatization.
Let’s consider other animals that are largely owned privately, like chickens and cows. There is certainly no shortage of either of those species, and they are both used for commercial gain. So what is the key component involving these two species that makes them available for commercial use, but not in danger of going extinct?
Private ownership! The farms own these animals, and have a vested interest in keeping them alive for when they put their meat or eggs or milk onto the market. If they irresponsibly used their livestock, they would go out of business.
Out of out their own self-interest, these commercial industries self-regulate, and keep the numbers of these animals at a level where extinction is not even remotely possible. So maybe a viable solution to conservation of elephants is private ownership and use of these animals.
Another suggestion is to actually foster sustainable hunting of elephants. It's not a direct private ownership approach, but the principle of self-interest is still at play in this model.
The Ivory Education Institute argues that responsible hunting is (ironically) a method of conservation in and of itself.
The southern African countries, including Zambia and Zimbabwe, practice wise and sustainable use of wildlife products such as elephant hunting trophies, ivory and rhino horn trade, to bring wildlife into balance with their habitats. Therefore, the US Department of Interior’s decision to suspend the US ban on elephant trophies from the two countries into the US was a breath of fresh air and good news for elephant conservation. Sadly, it only took a tweet from President Trump saying the ban would remain, “until such time as I review all conservation facts.” That review if done responsibly as we anticipate can only result in the reinstatement of his decision to allow imports of elephant hunting trophies into the USA because the motivating facts are strong, scientific and tested.
That could be one solution, but even broader than that, what about just plain private ownership of the elephants themselves? The Chinese are experimenting with an approach that involves self-interest, part of which involves "Panda loans" to certain people who then care for the animals. Why can't that be done on a larger scale with elephants as well?
When a particular good is a person’s own property, he/she is rather likely to care for it properly, because that person wants to keep the value in that particular item. However, when that same item is “held in common,” or effectively held by no one, there is not the same level of interest in properly maintaining it.
Perhaps private ownership of these beautiful animals should be encouraged, where individuals can hold them on private lands. Whether it’s for responsible hunting and ivory harvesting, or zoo exhibits, or just for the sake of conservation itself, private ownership adds a level of interest that government cannot hope to match.
What do you think about this idea? Are there any changes you would make to it, or other suggestions? Let me know below!