By Michael Schwartz
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Isaac Newton’s third law of motion is certainly an adequate illustration of the ongoing pugilism between pro-trade and anti-trade advocacy groups concerning the battle to protect remaining elephant and rhinoceros populations in Africa.
Having read more than my fair share of literature on both sides of the debate, it’s painfully clear that there are potential defects at each end of the spectrum—one of which is theoretical for the time being, while the other may be ushering in extinction through a tidal wave of good intentions.
To better understand the fallacies, it’s imperative to recognize the dual sincerity from pro- and anti-trade proponents to save Africa’s beloved megafauna. Neither group would defend its viewpoint so vehemently were it not for an unambiguous zeal to turn the tables on the barbaric act of illegally slaughtering elephants and rhino to satisfy tusk and horn appetites.
But the key word to focus on is illegal. That’s where the passion for protection takes on a dismal downward spiral—separating the unified objective among conservationists into splinter factions, with verbal altercations commonplace, and contradictory evidence vigorously highlighted to underpin opposing claims.
Facts—or Arguments—To Justify the Narrative?
Pro-traders want a legal, regulated trade to equipoise the rampancy of death by virtue of what they view as negligent, emotionally reinforced ban policies with no grounding in science or socioeconomics.
Anti-traders see illegality as an immutable concept in support of the right for sentient beings to live, while showcasing their own scientific findings to counter pro-trade recommendations.
The mounting affirmation from both camps is overwhelming, even dizzying, to the point where one questions whether either is solely grounded in irrefutable facts or merely cast into the dispute as a means to justify the narrative.
Nothing emphasizes this more succinctly than animal devotees who make use of cookie-cutter platitudes, with a limited understanding of conservation and the complexities of human nature, or dispassionate scientists who chide the earnestness of their activist counterparts. Still, it can be suggested that neither outlook in its purest form will effectively end the onslaught.
Despite the vigor of anti-trade enthusiasts, there’s no denying that prohibitions on the trade in ivory and rhino horn will always be ignored by high-level criminal syndicates operating within the black market. The same can be said of impoverished Africans contracted to carry out the poaching.
Beefing up anti-poaching security and increasing penalties, while certainly necessary, has not put a damper on a network historically acclimated to working outside the parameters of law—the factories in Asia, poachers on the ground, African government agents turning a blind eye to the carnage in exchange for clandestine payoffs.
The sheer size of certain national parks and game reserves in Africa notwithstanding, coupled with insufficient wildlife protection owing in large part to conservation budget shortages, is enough to recognize that altruism alone will not suffice.
There are also compelling theories that simply turning off supply through bans and the destruction of stockpiled contraband while demand remains high may be paradoxically contributing to increased poaching rates by way of speculative hoarding.
Anti-trade acolytes usually tout education as the panacea when confronted with a legal trade premise. But much like the seemingly endless effort to reduce poverty in Africa, this approach will likely take longer than elephants and rhino have at the current rates they’re being killed.
The sad reality is that proclaiming a commodity unlawful will not counteract its remunerative value, and despite the promises of preservation coalitions, undertakings to date have lacked a powerful enough punch to deal a significant blow to criminal operations.
For pro-traders, a properly regulated trade has the potential of offsetting the black market. They argue that introducing raw ivory and horn from natural wildlife mortality in lieu of poaching, from existing confiscated stockpiles, and from the occasional problem animal would reverse black market trends by meeting demand sustainably through legal systematized channels and would subsequently eliminate availability and drive down need by using surcharges.
This, in turn, might minimize the intensity of poaching while stabilizing and ultimately recovering dwindling elephant and rhino populations. More....