Monday, March 12, 2007

Farming Elephants

Every year millions of cows, sheep, pigs and chickens are slaughtered every year. (I don't have exact figures but The Straight Dope estimates that McDonald's alone sends ten million cows to the grinder, annually.) Millions. How can this be? With so much death, why aren't these animals on the endangered species list? How can they not be extinct?

It's because we raise the animals, too. Famers all over the world are watching their herds and making sure the population-and their livlihood-don't run out. They breed them, raise them, care for them, make sure they have lots of offspring. And then they kill them. Say what you want about the ethics of it, but that's a pretty good way to make sure they never go extinct.

Some African countries may be taking this lesson to heart as they ponder lifting the ban on the ivory trade. Some environmentalists insist this will cause poaching to skyrocket. But just like Prohibition, the drug trade and any other banned sector, prices increase. In places where the property rights are sound and secure, people will raise the elephants like ranchers raise cattle. Populations will expand, prices will fall and poachers will be put out of business.

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