The Kiss of Death or Does Conservation Work?

From an article by Mike Norton-Griffiths:

“We – the public that is – have been bombarded over the years with appeals from International Conservation Organisations (ICOs) to save this and fight for that and preserve the absolutely last whatever, each appeal sketching in graphic detail the plight of the remaining few and the deep loss we will all feel and suffer should they vanish. On the other hand, articles in newspapers and magazines, and programmes on TV and radio all tell us a different story. Whether its rain forests, tigers or crested newts, there seem to be fewer and fewer and less and less of everything. God forbid – but are these perhaps connected? If there really are fewer tigers now than there were before, is it because we did not give enough in the past? or would there be even fewer now if we hadn’t given what we did give? or are they – the ICOs and their ilk – not doing the right things? In other words, is conservation working? and how can we tell anyway? or should we just go on giving secure in the knowledge that surely they know what best to do with our money?

I am particularly concerned here with efforts to conserve species like the tiger, rhino and elephant, species which seem to be endangered as much from a demand for the products of the animal as for the space that they need to live in. Let us make a simple mental model of the problems facing their would-be conservationists. We start, say, with a Continent full of tigophants which sport magnificent husks; but there is a demand for tigophant based medicines and ornaments so traders purchase tigophant husks from hunters for onward sale. This reduces the numbers of tigophants so conservation authorities spend more effort in preserving them and in chasing poachers. Meanwhile, rising populations and real incomes among the consumers of tigophant products increase the demand, so the price and value of husks rises creating greater incentives to hunt them. Furthermore, the diminishing numbers of tigophants inflates the price and value of husks. Traders now purchase even more husks from hunters, tigophants get fewer and fewer, conservationists try harder and harder, husks gets more and more valuable, so traders now finance even more hunters to hunt even more tigophants; and so on and so on in a tightening spiral to extinction…”

Read the article here (pdf).


One thought on “The Kiss of Death or Does Conservation Work?

  1. This vicious cycle is one which cannot be avoided or overcome. Also, as there are less ‘tigophants’ as you call endangered species, there is less need for space for them to live, and more people build upon what area would have been their habit, leaving no room for the species even if there was enough time for them to procreate. Some have tried to overcome this by placing endangered species by placing them in zoos or breeding them in captivity, but they are ignoring both nature and evolution – these offspring of zoo animals will not be what their predecessors were and eventually may not even resemble their ancestors.

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