Elephant Poaching: National Tragedy or Tragedy of the Commons?

Elephant Poaching: National Tragedy or Tragedy of the Commons?

Tanzania recently ended a policy of summary execution of elephant poachers predictably due to “a litany of arbitrary murder, rape, torture and extortion of innocent people.”  The prime minister gave a PR response that, for me at least, sums up most government policy saying “The anti-poaching operation had good intentions, but the reported murders, rapes and brutality are totally unacceptable.”

World governments have taken the same measures they always do when individuals consume something that they arbitrarily deem distasteful and simply banned the sale of ivory; a method which has been categorically proved to simply not work.  After all, how easy is it to buy narcotics in America?  Or alcohol in the Middle East?  Or other drugs…in prisons.     

So what is my solution?

As with other commons violations such as over-fishing the answer to the dwindling elephant population is simple.  Privatize it.  Privatize what? You ask.  The elephants of course!  Ivory is a hot commodity in the third world, used for obvious things such as jewelry and decoration and not-so-obvious things like aphrodisiacs and snake-oil like medicines and this demand is not going away any time soon.

Allow promising entrepreneurs to tag, herd, breed, and protect groups of elephants for the purpose of harvesting their ivory, meat, hides, and any other parts of value for later sale throughout Asia and the world.  By doing this you would ensure the existence of these animals for as long as there continues to be demand for them.

3 thoughts on “Elephant Poaching: National Tragedy or Tragedy of the Commons?

  1. No chance of that. It makes far to much sense, and besides doesn’t aggrandize the government. Would it work? Of course it would. But that is increasingly irrelevant.

    • For me all questions of “how” in regards to libertarianism have to be divided into two distinct but comparable categories: The ideal and practical. In most cases the ideal refers to situations that would take place in a purely libertarian society while the practical refers to a means to achieving a libertarian end in the world we currently live in.

      The problem the libertarian faces when trying to describe the practical is that often times these methods would require the complicity of multiple real world governments. For example multiple nations would need to decriminalize the sale and consumption of elephant produce. Other countries would have to decriminalize the farming of elephants which includes their slaughter for human consumption. Finally, the farmers property rights in the elephants would have to be respected by multiple countries because many migrating animals such as elephants cross international boundaries on a daily basis.

      It would do no good to have Country A auction the rights to a herd to Farmer A and country B to give the rights to the same herd to Farmer B simply because the herd spends half of its time in each country. We would wind up with the same problem we have now, namely the wholesale slaughter of elephants without regard to the longevity of the species.

      So to more directly answer your question yes an auction could work but since the elephants are currently unowned (and yes claims of ownership by a government are equal to lack of ownership) I could not tell you who could auction them off. The very problem is that no one owns these animals and if no one owns them then no one can sell them.

      The best libertarian solution would be to allow whoever homesteads these elephants to gain their ownership without any sort of auction. Tagging, tracking, and protecting these elephants from poachers as well as stimulating their population through other protective measures would, at least by libertarian principles, become the rightful owners of the entire herd and any goods and services they then produce.

Please keep it civil

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