The news that an entire family of elephants was slaughtered by poachers in Kenya is depressing. I’m a big squish when it comes to charismatic megafauna, the technical term for really awesome big animals: tigers, whales, dolphins, elephants, lions etc. But I’m also a conservative in the purest sense of the word. The conservation of these creatures is its own reward. They speak to our place in the universe, the majesty of God’s creation, the imagination of children, and countless other intangible factors that resonate from the Bible to literature to our own childhoods.
To that end, while I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense for the U.S. government to get officially involved militarily, I would love to see some foundation hire some ex-special forces to lend a hand in the worthwhile effort of shooting poachers.
It would, however, make sense for the U.S. government to pressure the Chinese and other Asian countries to crack down in any way possible on the demand for ivory and the like. A public education effort to explain to the Chinese that Viagra works a lot better than powdered rhino horn would also be especially helpful. My concern is chiefly for the animals that I think are things of beauty and worth saving for the reasons suggested above. But, it’s also very much in the interest of the human populations of these African countries that make a fortune off tourism. Helping Africans crush poaching would be direct aid to Africa itself because if you lose the safari-worthy sights, you lose the people who want to go on safaris.
I have some libertarian friends who argue for the legalization of elephant farms and the like as a way to satisfy legally the markets for the ivory trade, tiger pelts etc. Personally, I find the idea repugnant, but I also don’t have the stomach to personally slaughter cows and pigs either. If the idea worked, with the necessary safeguards and the like, I can’t say out of hand I’d be against it. But the whole point of creating such a system would be to allow the wild populations to remain wild.
And for that to happen, the poachers need to be crushed the way the Thuggees and the Barbary pirates were crushed. In America, horse stealing was once a capital offense on the grounds that a horse was a huge investment and often the source of someone’s livelihood. That same logic applies to charismatic megafauna all over the world. Again, my chief concern isn’t economic, but the economic argument might be the dispositive one.