The animal rights activists tend to hate the idea that animals are considered property, but property rights-based plans for managing endangered species are the most likely to produce long-term success. Whether assigning property rights to individuals or, more commonly, to communities, property rights schemes promote the viability of a species by making it in its owners’ interest to properly manage and grow the population.
A good example of this is the Peruvian vicuna which is finally on the road to recover after being listed as endangered in 1974. The vicuna is a relative of the llama and is prized for it wool which is among the finest in the world. One kilogram of fleece from the vicuna costs about $390 and requires five animals to produce.
At such high prices, the vicuna was endangered primarily by poachers. The species was hunted so heavily that only 8,000 of the animals were thought to exist throughout the Andes region. The problem with poachers didn’t really start to decline until 1993 when a property rights plan was developed that gave poor communities in the Andes an economic interest in preventing poaching and encouraging the recovery of the species.
The communities are given the right to capture and shear 1,500 animals in an annual ceremony which re-enacts an Incan religious ceremony. The wool is then transformed into garments bearing the “Vicunandes” trademark. The only garments made out of vicuna wool that are legal to own or sell must bear that trademark. Of course the Andes communities also have an additional interest in preventing poaching since any illegal taking of the animals cuts into their potential profits.
This is a wonderful case of a win-win in species preservation. The animal species is allowed to thrive, while a poor community gets additional income that it needs. The only losers are the poachers. And, of course, the animal rights activists, since most animal rights philosophies at their core oppose this sort of human/non-human interaction as inherently exploitative.
Shy creatures provide windfall for Andeans. The BBC, July 3, 2000.
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