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Oped: Anti-Poaching Efforts Must Focus on Reducing Demand

Photo by Kristian Schmidt/WildAid

The war against poaching doesn’t have to suffer the same failures as the war on drugs. But on its current course, American foreign policy risks failure at a time of unprecedented poaching across Africa. 

In a Monday oped for the Los Angeles Times, WildAid CEO and co-founder Peter Knights argues that the administration’s implementation plan for its "National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking" may compromise much-needed efforts to measurably reduce global demand for rhino horn, elephant ivory and other wildlife products by failing to marshall adequate resources.

Restricting supply without reducing demand is a losing strategy, Knights argues: 

The implementation plan calls for the U.S. to devote hundreds of millions of dollars to policing wildlife poaching and trafficking, but it provides virtually no funds for reducing demand, not even in the United States, which has been assessed by some as the world's second-largest market for illegal wildlife products.

I'm an economist by training, and I can tell you, if common sense doesn't, that trying to restrict supply without restricting demand is likely only to drive up price. That's how we have spent trillions on drug enforcement with little to show for it.

Instead of forever escalating our "war on poaching," we need a more durable solution that bans the trade, closes markets and otherwise prioritizes persuading consumers to stop buying wildlife products.

Efforts to persuade consumers against wildlife products that have devastating effects on many animal species have shown measurable success. Knights points out the campaign to end shark fin consumption in China: 

The education campaign, led by former NBA star Yao Ming, combined with a government ban on shark fin soup at state banquets, is credited with reducing the shark fin trade in China by 50% to 70% in the last few years. Traders are getting out of the business, and fishermen in places like Indonesia are giving up on pursuing sharks because the price of their fins is too low.

Read the full oped here.