Monday, January 16, 2006

Trophy Hunting

According to the AFP:

Trophy hunting should be encouraged as a way to protect the dwindling number of African lions facing habitat loss and other threats, a group of conservationists has said. "Regulated trophy hunting was not considered a threat, but rather viewed as a way to help alleviate human-lion conflict and generate economic benefits for poor people to build their support for lion conservation," said a statement from the IUCN-World Conservation Union...
The first key element of economics is "Incentives Matter". This new policy approach towards lions will go a long way to aligning incentives in the best possible way. It now gives poor people an incentive to encourage lion populations because of the substantial sums of money they are worth. This is no small feat; the article notes that "the reality is that lions in Tanzania alone attack over 100 people every year, and they kill over 70 people every year". By allowing a market to develop legally, these people now have an incentive to actually save the lions rather than kill them indiscriminately.

My concern is over the article's statement that trophy hunting is a way to "generate funds that could help governments deal with problem animals." I have few concerns if this simply means that trophy hunting will be taxed like any other product. If so, it carries the same inefficiencies as any other tax. I fear, however, that the government is taking ownership of a portion of the lions or the land that the lions inhabit. If this is the case, this will lead directly to a tragedy of the commons problem. This occurs when individuals share ownership of a piece of property and cannot guarantee use of a portion of that property in the future. The result is that each individual is better off consuming the property now rather than waiting for a more profitable future use. In the future, another own of the owners of the property is likely to have already consumed it.

I hope for the sake of the poor in Africa that the trophy hunting is made legal and ownership of the lions has been given to people in local communities. This will result in a healthier lion population and a wealthier African population.

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