Whether wildlife farming helps or hurts threatened species is a highly contested question among conservationists and food security consultants. An article written by Richard Conniff in Yale News helps us understand both sides of this controversial and lesser-known practice:
Wildlife farming is … a tantalizing idea that is always fraught with challenges and often seriously flawed. And yet it is also growing both as a marketplace reality and in its appeal to a broad array of legitimate stakeholders as a potentially sustainable alternative to the helter-skelter exploitation of wild resources everywhere.
Food security consultants are promoting wildlife farming as a way to boost rural incomes and supply protein to a hungry world. So are public health experts who view properly managed captive breeding as a way to prevent emerging diseases in wildlife from spilling over into the human population.
Conservationists have increasingly joined the debate over wildlife farming, with a view to keeping the trade in bushmeat and exotic pets from emptying forests and other habitats. Writing in the journal Conservation Letters, wildlife trade researchers Dan Challender and Douglas C. MacMillan argue that regulations and enforcement alone cannot end the current poaching crisis. “In the medium term, we should drive prices down,” they write, with “sustainable off-take mechanisms” such as regulated trade, ranching, and wildlife farming. They say it has worked before. Successful introduction of carefully regulated crocodile ranching during a mid-twentieth century poaching crisis across Africa “led to reduced poaching pressure on wild populations, even in countries with weak governance,” they note.
But another article, published in April in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation asks the question, “Under what circumstances can wildlife farming benefit species conservation?” Author Laura Tensen, a conservation geneticist at the University of Johannesburg, provides a broad review of wildlife farming projects worldwide and answers, in effect, “not often.” And one of the few success stories she cites might not appeal to some conservationists: The shift in the 1930s from wild-caught to farmed animals was a key to the recovery of many North American mammal species in the luxury fur trade.
The debate over the conservation potential of wildlife farming is likely to attract widespread attention next month, when the 182 member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meet in Johannesburg. Neighboring Swaziland has proposed legalizing the rhino horn trade, in a bid to make rhino ranching a commercial enterprise. That effort is almost certain to fail. But given the reality that “trade restrictions agreed through CITES are failing in many instances,” as Challender and MacMillan put it, farming of other wildlife species is likely to play an increasing role in the anti-poaching debate.
Wildlife farming is of course not new. Aquaculture dates back at least 8,000 years, to small eel ponds kept by aborigines in southeastern Australia. Farmed carp, salmon, trout, and other fish species, as well as mollusks and crustaceans, now supply more than half of all seafood produced for human consumption. With sales set to reach $203 billion a year by 2020, aquaculture is by far the biggest sector of the wildlife-farming marketplace.
Nor is the idea of wildlife farming as a conservation tool particularly new. Ranchers in parts of southern Africa that are too dry for domestic livestock began raising wildlife more than a century ago, for trophy hunting, the meat trade, and tourism. Those ranches played a critical role in the recovery of a mountain zebra subspecies, black wildebeests, white rhinos, and bontebok and sable antelopes, among others, according to Andrew Taylor, co-author of a recent report on wildlife ranching for South Africa’s Endangered Wildlife Trust.
What’s different now is the urgency of the commercial push for wildlife farming everywhere, and the extraordinary range of species being farmed.
One problem with captive breeding, Tensen points out in her review, is that it’s inevitably more expensive to house, feed, and otherwise care for animals in captivity than to collect them from the wild. In parts of Asia where eating wildlife is a status symbol, people may be willing to pay that added price. But that does not appear to be the case in much of Africa, where hunters seek bushmeat for basic nutrition. Even relatively wealthy and educated consumers in the developed world are often reluctant to pay for sustainability.
Read the full story here.