Hunt it to save it

By Eric Crampton 19/11/2013 2


I’ve no urge to go hunting elephants and so I wouldn’t pay any positive price to kill one. I’d probably pay some positive price to avoid having to kill one. But it’s good that some folks have a willingness to pay to do it. Why? It can help fund conservation efforts.

Elephants are endangered. But some local herds can be beyond their range’s capacity to support the population. Active herd management then is needed. If you’re going to have to cull some animals, why not get somebody who’d be willing to pay $40,000 or more to do it, and put the funds towards conservation efforts?

I don’t know what kind of safari tour GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons was on, but I really really doubt that high profile folks make a habit of going on illegal safaris and then posing for pictures.

Assuming Parsons was on a conservation paid safari, tweets like the one above do harm. Rich people who’d be willing to pay money to shoot elephants stop doing it because of the reputation costs. The elephants still get shot, because active herd management requires it. But instead of being a profit source for the conservation folks, it’s instead a cost.*

Feeling Good, Doing Harm. Again.

Meanwhile, the US is destroying a big stockpile of seized elephant ivory. Brendan Moyle would like some evidence that doing so does more good than harm.

Tyler Cowen’s pretty sure it does harm: it sends a signal of increased scarcity and so boosts prices for poachers. He writes:

Bruce suggests the government announce it has created an artificial form of ivory, to lower expected prices and discourage future poaching. If they can get away with that lie, great. Otherwise, we all know the 2000 Kremer and Morcom piece entitled simply “Elephants”:

Many open-access resources, such as elephants, are used to produce storable goods. Anticipated future scarcity of these resources will increase current prices and poaching. This implies that, for given initial conditions, there may be rational expectations equilibria leading to both extinction and survival. The cheapest way for governments to eliminate extinction equilibria may be to commit to tough antipoaching measures if the population falls below a threshold. For governments without credibility, the cheapest way to eliminate extinction equilibria may be to accumulate a sufficient stockpile of the storable good and threaten to sell it should the population fall.

That emphasis is added. Sell it, not destroy.

The (gated) AER version of the paper is here. The Montclair State version is here. A few comments and responses are here.

In other words, our government is pursuing symbolic value but at the same time implementing the wrong incentives.

Previously: Eat them to keep them.

* You could build a second best case for the shaming’s being efficient if policy around the conservation areas were messed up and they were killing too many animals and if the gains in the interval until policy were fixed outweighed the costs after policy were fixed and the hunters continued staying away.


2 Responses to “Hunt it to save it”

  • It’s an issue really where conservation policy is being driven by some fairly large players who are resolutely opposed to the utilisation of ivory. These seem to have generated a close relationship to the ‘Clinton Initiative’ to tackle illegal trade in ivory.

    One of the problems now is that many governments are also involved in the poaching. I can’t think of a single wildlife service in Africa that has not had personnel involved. And we know there is significant “leakage” from stockpiles. The Philippines lost about 6 tons, and we know stuff has also disappeared from Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Malaysia. Congo hasn’t proceeded with their announced destruction of their stockpiles, is a a signal that they’ve probably found theirs have been already lost. It’s not a good situation.

    The US destruction I can’t see really have much effect because it’s small and has long been sterilised from the market. The pressure on Hong Kong to eliminate its 30 tons is perhaps more of concern.

    At the moment, African countries to accumulate ivory. Roughly 10,000 elephants die naturally and a percentage of this is recovered. Another 2000 odd are killed as PAC (problem-animal-control) and as these are often male elephants with a high recovery rate of tusks, that’s (back of the envelope calculation) 40 tons of ivory a year.

  • The USA destroying the ivory was a pointless publicity stunt, which will achieve at least one result: people who trade ivory will think “now there’s less ivory, better go get some more fresh stuff”.
    The conservation or culling route is definitely a better way to go.