Archive September 2010

Tiger Blackmarkets Part I Brendan Moyle Sep 19

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My chief aim at the Hunchun conference on tiger conservation, was to try to get people thinking more about the black market for tiger parts. Poaching is a significant threat to the survival of wild tiger populations. Sadly the neglect of the black market has been an ongoing issue for years (see blogpost)

My approach has been to take a transaction-cost economics approach to these black markets. This starts by asking three important questions.
First How do buyers and sellers actually find each other? In a black-market this is especially difficult. For instance, buyers and sellers cannot exactly advertise openly their products. The source of tigers is often a long way from where the buyers are located.
Second How do the buyers and sellers provide assurance that they can be trusted? In a black-market, you can’t depend on the legal system to enforce a contract. There may be risks that the seller has a fake rather than real product. Or the buyer is actually a law enforcement agent.
Third What actions or extra steps do people have to take to lower the risks of being detected by law enforcement agencies. Sellers may have to incur additional costs, such as bribes to corrupt officials, to sell their products.

In short, the popular theory that poachers are just killing tigers and happily transporting the parts hundreds of kilometers to easily locatable, willing customers is just wrong. In this black-market, there are a number of challenges that buyers and sellers have to overcome to make their trades. Understanding how they do this, is crucial to developing policies that can reduce poaching.

This leads into the next point about wildlife black-markets. This point is that the supply chain matters. The supply-chain links all the participants of this market. It describes how the tiger parts are first sourced, then processed, transported and sold, often through many parties. Each link in the chain has a flow of goods moving towards the terminal point. And it has information about market conditions flowing up and down the supply-chain.

In standard economic analysis, supply-chains are often ignored. Goods and information flows rapidly along the chain. This then means that often for such sophisticated markets, it is only really the prices that matter.

In wildlife markets, especially black markets, information and goods don’t flow freely. For instance, butterfly harvesters in Papua New Guinea are more likely to conclude that a wholesaler is ripping them off if prices drop, than that demand by foreign customers has ebbed. These kinds of poor information flows, and slow movement of goods, adds up to the organisation of the supply chain mattering.

In short, not only will the price of the tiger parts matter in the black-market, so will the various transaction costs. It is very difficult to tell if law enforcement is hindering the black-market if you just look at prices. Other metrics that are transaction-cost based can be clearer. For instance, one of the more useful metrics is the search costs customers must bear to find the good. Both TRAFFIC and I have explored the Traditional Chinese Market for tiger-part in China and come to the same conclusion. The search costs for customers to locate legitimate tiger parts (fakes are actually a lot easier) is very, very high.

A plethora of parasites Brendan Moyle Sep 14

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While this bumblebee might look in good health, it’s actually suffering a a major parasitic attack. There are clusters of minute mites sucking away over its body.

If you look closely, you should see these mites clustered around the rear of the eyes, and some more visible on the legs.

Link to larger image

A Fur Seal Interlude Brendan Moyle Sep 13

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From Cape Palliser- an older shot

New Zealand fur seal, or kekeno.

The adult males are much larger than the females. This species can also dive deeper than any other seal. The scientific name is Arctocephalus forsteri.

Monday Morning Macro- Orbweb Spider II Brendan Moyle Sep 13

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While I have been focused on the trip to China and subsequent work demands, it’s been a challenge to do a lot of blogging. Nonetheless, the Jilin province, and especially the area between North Korea and Russia, is an interesting spot. I was able to see a lot of insect and spider life, as well as some birds. Birds however, do not seem to be really all that abundant.

I snapped this orbweb spider at a border crossing point. The unusual thing about the photo is it was taken with my telephoto lens- the 70-200/2.8 G- rather than the macro.

It is actually, quite a large spider.

Back from China, some quick tiger notes Brendan Moyle Sep 06

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Last week I was in China, largely to attend the "International Forum on Tiger Conservation and Culture" in Hunchun. I presented a paper on the second day on the tiger black-market, which I’ll elaborate a bit later.

There was some positive news for a change at the conference. Nepal has managed to get an increase in tiger numbers, notably at the Chitwan reserve.
Numbers in Nepal in 1974 were 110 tigers; over the period 1996-2000 estimates were 98-123 tigers; in 2005 estimated numbers were between 105-130; in 2008 121 and in 2010, deployment of lots of camera traps has allowed identification of 155 tigers.

China and Russia are continuing with plans to expand and link up their Amur (Siberian) tiger habitats. China has plans to expand their 4 reserves to link these up and current barriers between Russia and China (a consequence of past military conflict) will be made more porous.

I learned a little more about the smuggling incident in July in Hunchun. The most significant news is that the smuggler was caught with only 6 pieces of bone, rather than the 46 reported. That I have to say, makes a lot more sense.