Friday, January 22, 2010

More on Saving The Tiger with Market Forces

"The tiger, which is at the top of the food chain in its ecosystem, would be at the top of the economic ladder because of its market value. Among the results we can expect from breeding tigers to reduce poaching in the wild:

•The pressure on wild tigers will go down, attracting more tourists to sanctuaries to see this majestic animal in its natural setting.

•The sale of farmed tigers will reduce the incentive for smugglers to kill wild tigers.

•Scientists and wildlife managers will improve their breeding, management, and rehabilitation methods for tiger reintroduction; forest dwellers, who have detailed knowledge of their natural surroundings, will facilitate wildlife management.

•Rural populations will change their incentives. Villagers who are often lured by smugglers into killing a wild tiger for a few dollars, will now defend their new environmental assets, because a live tiger will be more profitable to them than a dead one.

•In addition to attracting tourists through reduced pressure on wildlife, the farms can attract sportsmen through selective allocation of hunting licenses.

•As trade and marketing channels develop for both consumptive and non-consumptive use of tigers, investment in better technologies and management practices will take place. National and international brands will appear. Tourism will increase.

The price of the tiger in the black market will collapse, and legal trade will thrive. Investment will improve the productivity of wildlife farms, and assured supply and low prices will take the pressure off the wild tigers, allowing their numbers to revive.

Nothing would help the tiger and the other resources of our forests more than giving forest dwellers a stake in the resources in their vicinity and the opportunity to make a profit from them. A legal framework for tiger breeding would help resolve the conflict between the people and animals that has contributed to the tiger’s drastic decline. Once people can profit from these resources, they will have the incentive to optimize the use of the resources. It is mostly forgotten that forest and wildlife, including tigers, are renewable.

Under such a framework, rather than being in conflict, humans and animals would both prosper. Commerce could be the most powerful ally of conservation."

~From Barun Mitra's article "
Saving the Tiger" for PERC


At 1/22/2010 10:38 AM, Anonymous morganovich said...

he's leaving out what it costs to raise a tiger.

tigers eat 20 pounds of meat a day. that's 14,000 pounds in 2 years. call it $24,000. add in veterinary, large space and security needs, keepers, insurance (if anyone will write it) and god knows what else and i bet you it costs $40,000 to raise a tiger. hard to imagine how $60,000 retail yields a collapse in black market pricing.

it's an interesting line of thought and holds some truth as a general concept, but ignoring the specifics of trying to raise a 600 pound solitary alpha predator is likely to yield perverse results.

even ostriches, from which nearly every part is useful, are nearly impossible to raise profitably.

this tiger thing is a cute idea, but until but somebody shows me how the specific economics can work with some actual data, i'm calling BS.

At 1/22/2010 11:50 AM, Anonymous Frack said...

You've got it completely correct morganovich. Notice how you posted your logical analysis twice and it was deflected by pointy-headed, ivory tower theory by people who never, ever ran a real business (nor worked in one) in their lives.

This entire essay sounds like a speech from Barack Obama: long on lofty promises of beneficial change and devoid of meaningful details.

Like you, I think it might be worth a try. It could surprise the skeptic, but a rigorous cost-benefit analysis would likely reveal it as yet another wasteful enterprise.

It's funny you bring up ostriches. I dated the sister of a guy who had an ostrich farm. While I could attribute it's failure to the brother's incompetence, the lack of demand for his ostrich meat made it an inevitable failure.

With tigers you have the opposite problem. Too many superstitious consumers in a 1.3 billion population want ineffective tiger products. That level of want cannot be sustained by the reproductive capacity of the tigers. They don't lay a thousand eggs like fish. The put out maybe 5 cubs a year at most. As soon as price rises high enough, poaching will resume.

A guy on Tom Brokaw's American Character raises free-range cows. He says, "I can't feed the whole world this way but..." That's the problem. Even if tiger farming was cost effective, we'd have thousands of tigers in pens and we still couldn't keep up with demand.

We're past Peak Tiger. :)

At 1/22/2010 12:28 PM, Anonymous morganovich said...


if anything is going to save the tiger, i suspect it's viagra...

it would be a fantastic tiger conservation project to distribute free little blue pills to the older Chinese men currently using tiger penis in an attempt to restore virility.

At 1/22/2010 1:04 PM, Anonymous Benny "Tell It LIke It Is Man" Cole said...

This seems to be a call for government regulation of market forces to obtain a gain in psychic income, which is the survival of the tiger. This is not a not a call for true free markets.
Okay, and maybe government regulation will work better than free markets in saving the tiger.
But presenting it as a free markets solution seems a bit rich.
That;s like saying American farmers are the best in the world due to our free markets.

At 1/22/2010 2:23 PM, Anonymous Ian Random said...

Apparently, tigers make great pets:

"The number of Americans keeping tigers and other big cats as pets continues to grow. IFAW estimates that there are 10,000 tigers being kept as pets in the U.S. , double the amount left living in the wild in the entire world."

Also I remember, but can't find, an illegal liger operation being busted. So it is possible illegally to make a return on hybrid tigers.

At 1/22/2010 2:32 PM, Blogger Marko said...

Don't some populations of tigers kill and eat people with some regularity? No wonder people kill them. Its a tough world out there still for some people.

At 1/22/2010 4:01 PM, Blogger QT said...

Frack, Morganovich,

Glad someone raised the reality of cost as well as the difficulty experienced in breeding large animals in captivity. The comparison to reptiles or birds which lay eggs is completely absurd.

The additional factor is cultural. The idea behind eating a powerful carnivore is to gain the strength of the animal. A wild tiger will still be perceived as stronger and more virile (tiger meat is valued as an aphrodisiac as well as for its health benefits)than one bred in people here prefer wild mussels to cultured ones.

There are also tremendous challenges with enforcement. How do you tell illegally killed meat from legally raised meat? In a country with rampant corruption like China, enforcement is unlikely.

Nice thought but I don't think it will work.

On the other hand, as standards of living and income rise in China, there are many more economic opportunities for making a living aside from illegal hunting which may be good news for the tiger. Increasingly, the younger generation is embracing western culture...including western medicine also hopeful for the tiger.

At 1/22/2010 4:48 PM, Blogger John B. Chilton said...

Oh. Not _that_ Tiger.

At 1/22/2010 6:11 PM, Blogger OA said...

A cow can be bought in Thailand for several hundred dollars. I don't know what they weigh, but it's cheaper than $1/pound net. Bulls are cheaper than females and they're bigger at whatever age, so the right situation. If a tiger farm were willing to buy recently dead cows or water buffalo, they'd get the carcass for a song.

Although some supplemental food would be developed with grain or rice bulk or something else. How many people feed their cats and dogs with birds, rodents, and animal protein only?

Right now tiger zoos get by on tourist dollars, donations, and sometimes government support. And raising the tigers is expensive, but they're also raised for show and longevity, in conditions that are palatable.

A tiger farm wouldn't need the nice facilities meant for tourists. They would be the same bleak, constrained environment that other farm animals are raised in. Probably concrete cells with some steel bars for tigers. That's unpalatable for a big cat and is one of the big obstacles. But China wouldn't have that problem and there's no reason for them to be in expensive land and labor cost areas. Tourist facilities are fairly close to cities, but commercial farms don't have to be.

I doubt most male commercial tigers would be raised full size. The whole skin is more valuable that way, but isn't worth enough to justify all them being grown that big. Hats, clothing trim, etc. would work just fine with smaller skins. Male tiger organ purchasers aren't going to know how big the tiger was.

The economics aren't a slam dunk, but not as daunting as they seem.

At 1/22/2010 7:29 PM, Anonymous Frack said...

OA, when you've got 1.3 billion people in China, 40% of whom are living in poverty, the cheap dead Thai cows could feed a lot of hungry humans.

I agree with the viagra suggestion. The problem with economics is "there is no accounting for tastes" or, as MJP puts it, "Markets in Everything." There is nothing rational about eating tiger parts. Education won't cure the problem. I go to Chinese restaurants in America and they're eating bird's nest soup and frogs. Same for shark fins.

The folly of Peak Oil is that we already have alternatives which are not cost effective but will become cost effective as oil prices rise. But with Peak Tiger, there ARE no substitutes. They won't take Viagra, even if it were free. We've got a huge culture mired in ancient superstitions. With no or few substitutes, you have an extremely inelastic demand. But with tigers so rare, you have inelastic supply.

At 1/22/2010 10:58 PM, Blogger QT said...


I hate to disagree with you but my friends from Hong Kong take viagra. Actually, a doctor I know says viagra creates problems for many chinese couples because the ladies don't want the attention of their ithyphallic husbands.

Admittedly Hong Kong is not mainland China, however, Hong Kong was as poor as China after WWII and now is very advanced. It doesn't take much education to figure out that viagra works better than ground up tiger gonads...all you have to do is try it.

At 1/23/2010 12:58 AM, Blogger Chuck said...

This is a wonderful testament to intellectual economics which can be resolved by actual field study. Place the tigers and both macro and micro economists in the same caged area while being observed by behavorial economists. Chances are the macro and micro economists would kill each other off first. Then the tigers would clean up. The behavorial economists would report their findings in a paper that would be widely read at lunch counters by Chinese eating various tiger recipes. The Chinese would conclude that there should be a free market solution for breeding economists.


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