From: Richard Conniff, Yale Environment360
Published October 25, 2016 07:16 AM

Wildlife Farming: Does It Help Or Hurt Threatened Species?

More than a decade ago, looking to slow the decimation of wildlife populations for the bushmeat trade, researchers in West Africa sought to establish an alternative protein supply. Brush-tailed porcupine was one of the most popular and high-priced meats, in rural and urban areas alike. Why not farm it? It turned out that the porcupines are generally solitary, and when put together, they tended to fight and didn't have sex. In any case, moms produce only one offspring per birth, hardly a recipe for commercial success. 

Wildlife farming is like that — a tantalizing idea that is always fraught with challenges and often seriously flawed. And yet it is also growing both as a marketplace reality and in its appeal to a broad array of legitimate stakeholders as a potentially sustainable alternative to the helter-skelter exploitation of wild resources everywhere. 

Food security consultants are promoting wildlife farming as a way to boost rural incomes and supply protein to a hungry world. So are public health experts who view properly managed captive breeding as a way to prevent emerging diseases in wildlife from spilling over into the human population. Even Sea World has gotten into the act, promoting captive breeding through its Rising Tide nonprofit as a way to reduce the devastating harvest of fish from coral reefs for the aquarium hobbyist trade. 

Conservationists have increasingly joined the debate over wildlife farming, with a view to keeping the trade in bushmeat and exotic pets from emptying forests and other habitats. Writing in the journal Conservation Letters, wildlife trade researchers Dan Challender and Douglas C. MacMillan argue that regulations and enforcement alone cannot end the current poaching crisis. “In the medium term, we should drive prices down,” they write, with “sustainable off-take mechanisms” such as regulated trade, ranching, and wildlife farming. They say it has worked before. Successful introduction of carefully regulated crocodile ranching during a mid-twentieth century poaching crisis across Africa “led to reduced poaching pressure on wild populations, even in countries with weak governance,” they note. 

But another article, published in April in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation asks the question, “Under what circumstances can wildlife farming benefit species conservation?” Author Laura Tensen, a conservation geneticist at the University of Johannesburg, provides a broad review of wildlife farming projects worldwide and answers, in effect, “not often.” 

And one of the few success stories she cites might not appeal to some conservationists: The shift in the 1930s from wild-caught to farmed animals was a key to the recovery of many North American mammal species in the luxury fur trade. 

Continue reading at Yale Environment360.

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