Can the Free Market Save Animals from the Black Market?

How does one go about saving endangered species, especially those that are hunted for their fur, tusks, or other animal product? To some the solution is simple: legislation. Politicians must step up to the plate and pass laws protecting these poor animals. Laws must be passed that make it illegal to hunt them, and a ban must be placed on the use of their furs or tusks. Surely, once these measures are adopted the species will be saved; however, this simple belief in the power of the politicians is deeply flawed, and fails to take into account the complex market forces at play on these animals.

Passing laws prohibiting the hunting of endangered animals will not save them, in fact it can have the exact opposite effect. With the regulated hunting of these animals illegal, poachers will move in to supply the demand for these exotic goods. Poachers to not care for laws, they only care about making money on the black market. In Africa poachers kill elephants for their tusks and then leave the entire carcass behind. It is truly a horrific practice.

So how can we stop it, how can we stop poachers if passing laws isn’t enough? One possible answer is to out compete the poachers in a legal fashion. It has been done before, and could be done again. Back in the 1960’s the American alligator was critically endangered. Alligator skins were highly valued for the high quality leather they produced, and hunting had devastated the alligator population. Alligator farms presented a solution for both the fashion industry and the conservation of alligators. They produced a better product than poachers did and helped to kill the black market, since they were operating legally. Poachers, unable to make money hunting alligators, ceased to threaten the species, and the American alligator was removed from the endangered species list in 1987.

Could this free market solution to poaching be applied to other species? I believe so, and I think it is important that all possible solutions to this terrible problem be explored. The conservation of endangered species is hugely important, and it would be a tragedy to lose a species to black market poachers if the free market could have saved it.