Many people assume that the best way to protect an endangered species is to pass laws that prohibit people from hunting them. This is not always the case. In fact, many species go extinct before they’re even put on the threatened or endangered species list. Even when animals do go on the list, it is of course, not always guaranteed that they will survive. For instance, the Eastern Cougar was declared extinct on June 17, 2015 despite being recognized as endangered in 1973.
There are several species of animals which were once endangered, but came to flourish under private ownership. For example, the American bison (not to be confused with the buffalo) once roamed the Great Plains in numbers estimated at about 30 million. This was after many American Indians who helped keep their numbers in check died from foreign diseases and before the bison were hunted almost to extinction by American Settlers due to an absence of land ownership. Private ownership of bison began long before the U.S Government made any effort to try to save them. It’s safe to say that the American bison would not exist today if it had not been for people capturing calves and raising them on their own.
American alligators also faced the same demise as the bison did, but now many are privately owned. Some of them live on farms while others exist on private property where the owners of the property are provided with incentives by local governments not to kill them. For instance, in the tax farm of Louisiana, around 81% of the coastal alligator habitats are privately owned. Since the American alligator is farmed and hunted for its meat, it is unlikely that even without any government constraints that it would now cease to exist. Just like cows aren’t in danger of going extinct any time soon.
Extinction has been an ongoing threat to both white and black rhinos for several decades. Their horns are a prized commodity on the black market, where they are sold for their alleged medicinal uses. Recently, South Africa proposed an interesting solution to this impending tragedy. The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa believes that their legal conservation efforts have actually encouraged more killings of the animal and thinks that legalizing the rhino horn trade may in fact curb poaching. The South African government’s thinking is that they can sell horns that they already have stockpiled and increase the available supply tremendously. By doing this, the price of the horns would drop, making poaching rhinos for their horns no longer a lucrative business. Hopefully they haven’t missed the window of opportunity with this realization of the fallacy of government prohibition and of the correlation between price and supply.
With or without government interference, species will occasionally continue to go extinct for multiple reasons, whether it be because they are unfit to survive or are deemed a threat to humans. However, due to the tragedy of the commons, it is more likely that the lives of animals housed on private property will be respected and better protected than those kept on public property. There may still be hope even for those that are already extinct. The last Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, died in captivity due to neglect, despite a 35 year government conservation effort. Many scientists still have hope that it may be possible to resurrect the tiger by splicing its genes into the DNA of a Tasmanian Devil. We are still far from this being a reality, but without governments deciding which projects to fund with our money, there would be a lot more currency available to spend on such research. I’d rather donate to the possibility of having one of those cute little guys as a pet (among other research of course, like curing cancer and furthering space exploration) than having that money stolen from me and put towards developing the next “weapon of mass destruction.”
How about you? What animal would you like to see grace us with its beauty once again?