Though it may seem counter-intuitive to those who haven’t thought it through, in truth the best way to preserve an endangered (real or perceived) species is to insure that it is in the direct economic interest of people to preserve and propagate it. And this requires establishing, protecting and maintaining a market for the species and its products. If there is an economic incentive for preserving and propagating a species, it will be safe forever.
Case in point: the North American bison/buffalo (Latin, Bison bison). Originally numbering—what? 30? 60? 90 million? individuals (nobody really knows for sure), but reduced by wanton and wasteful slaughter to under 1,000 animals (some accounts say as few as 88) by the late 1880s, they have increased to nearly half a million today, a number that is growing rapidly. How is this possible? By giving bison owners the opportunity to make money from them. It is and has always been entirely legal to sell bison—their meat, hides, heads, and horns, and to hunt privately-owned herds, and as a consequence, those who have owned bison have had every incentive to protect, preserve and propagate their herds so as to have a never-ending supply of this commodity to sell. However, had some “genius” environmental extremist in the 1880s insisted on an “endangered species” classification for the bison, and imposed draconian penalties on those who bought or sold their products, the present population would be at best a few thousand—those in zoos or in national parks such as Yellowstone, where they would be a continuing economic burden rather than a profitable economic resource.
In contrast, compare African elephants (and rhinos and tigers, too). It is currently absolutely illegal world-wide to deal in any contemporary elephant products of any kind—ivory, meat, hides, etc, and therefore there is no economic motivation (beyond tourism) to protect, propagate and expand existing herds. Poaching, rather than being stopped or greatly reduced, is encouraged by the prohibition of trade in elephant products, since the value of illegally traded products is artificially high due to severely restricted supply. If, instead, the local villagers (and anyone else so inclined) were permitted to raise and use or sell elephants and their products (certified as “sustainably harvested”), they would then have a strong vested interest in protecting and propagating the species. As it is, I understand that they are not even permitted to eat the meat of rogue bulls that have had to be killed to protect human life and property. In contrast, I note that in India, the wide-spread use of elephants there as beasts of burden (and so of direct economic importance to man) guarantees their propagation, and I have never heard of Indian elephants being “endangered.” The same wise “free market” approach could be employed with rhinos (their horns can be harvested without killing the animal, and the money generated could be used to expand herds).
Tigers, with declining numbers in the wild (due in part to poaching for hides, meat, glands and more), would immediately become less “threatened” if it were legal to raise and sell living tigers and all their parts. If money could be readily made by raising tigers (and I have read that the various parts of a single animal can generate tens of thousands of dollars), then someone will figure out how to meet the demand for skins, and all else. A free market in “certified domestic-raised” tigers would reduce the “profit motive” of poaching wild animals, and reduce that pressure on remaining populations, while resulting in a great increase in total world tiger populations.
In short, the quickest road to extinction for an animal species is for a government or governments to make the producing, owning, buying or selling of that animal and its products illegal. Severe restrictions and outright prohibitions of trade in elephant, rhino and tiger products have done nothing to stop the precipitous population declines reported, and in fact unintentionally encourage the further slaughter in the wild, due to the high potential profits of such illegal activity.
And consider an inverse situation: what would happen to the many millions of beef cattle in America today, were it made illegal to buy or sell or consume them? In a matter of months—a few years at best—those numbers would drop to a few thousand head, since no one is going to spend all the time, money and effort to raise animals that are of no economic value except as a spectator draw in a zoo.
So while the zealous environmentalists apparently have good intentions—the sparing from extinction various “endangered” animals—their favored methods for securing this aim are ineffective and even counterproductive, encouraging further slaughter of the target species. Good intentions count for nothing if they unwittingly spawn bad consequences.