How to save the tiger

A few months ago, I’d linked to a superb piece by Barun Mitra about how endangered species such as the tiger could best be saved by market economics. To recap, Mitra had written:

[L]ike forests, animals are renewable resources. If you think of tigers as products, it becomes clear that demand provides opportunity, rather than posing a threat. For instance, there are perhaps 1.5 billion head of cattle and buffalo and 2 billion goats and sheep in the world today. These are among the most exploited of animals, yet they are not in danger of dying out; there is incentive, in these instances, for humans to conserve.

So it can be for the tiger.

Well, Arvind Kala has a piece today in Mint that makes a similar argument.

Right now, our wild animals are a wasted resource. Only private companies can unlock their true value by turning them into a dollar-earning tourist attraction. Wild animals flourish in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana because these nations treat their wildlife as an industry. They give land owners full property rights over the wild animals that roam on their land. The rights include hunting the animals and selling their meat, hides and horns. Thousands of privately owned ranches in these countries have switched to wildlife and safari tourism. They attract wealthy Americans and Europeans who pay $500-1,000 a day to go on photographic or hunting safaris, which typically last two to three weeks. So we have a paradox. These countries have booming wild animal population. But India’s wildlife diminishes even though shooting a partridge is a criminal offence. The paradox stems from a simple reason. Landowners of southern Africa protect their wildlife because they earn from it.

India’s tigers or elephants die because nobody owns them.

In other words, it’s the tragedy of the commons. Kala asks later in the piece: “If the private sector can run our phones, airlines and high-tech hospitals, why can’t it run game sanctuaries?” Indeed.

Or do you trust the government to protect these animals? Heh.