Saturday, April 24, 2010

And on that farm he had a tiger ...

Good grief. I have been lax haven't I? Nothing written on here for a couple of weeks. Let me apologise with the most misleading book cover of all time. It is ever-so-slightly pertinent to this post.

Work is progressing on the new book. It's a bit more of a 'grown up' book than Joined-Up Thinking and needs a lot more research. It's very time consuming ... but it's also the fun part. So far I've interviewed IT specialists, tramps, barristers, three professors, a man who thinks we should farm tigers, fishermen, some conker enthusiasts, a prostitute and a wizard. I also have some interesting contributions from the people at QI and the very splendid Tim Minchin. Trust me, it will all make a kind of sense when you read it.

I've heard some very funny stories during the research. One involved a little old lady who told me that she could never remember her PIN for her credit card so she wrote it on the wall next to her local ATM. When I scalded her for her dreadful lack of security consciousness she replied, 'But how would anyone know that it's my number?' and the more I've thought about it, the more I've realised the truth of what she said.

There's been some controversial discussions too. One chapter I'm working on looks at how the obvious answer isn't always the right answer. Jeremy Bentham's Utilitarianism may have advocated 'the greatest good for the greatest number of people' but strong emotions skew the logic of any given situation. We could, for instance, save an absolute fortune in NHS costs (that we tax payers all fund) by giving homeless people a free house. Really. We would. Do the maths (or read this). But how would you feel about that if you'd scrimped and saved to get your first foot on the property ladder? The residents of Sipson in Middlesex have had to fight tooth and claw against the combined might of the Labour government and the British Airports Authority to stop Heathrow building a new runway over their demolished village. They may now have won despite the logic of the building proposal and the huge numbers of air passengers who want to get in and out of the UK quicker and more frequently.

And then there's tiger farming.

'Tiger farms will help reduce the demand for wild tigers if the market is well-regulated. It would be wrong to say that by eliminating the market we eliminate the demand for tigers,'" says Terry Anderson of PERC. He refers to the continuation of the illegal trade in tiger parts, which are prized for having healing and aphrodisiac qualities and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Illegal poaching and the destruction of tigers' natural habitats have contributed to the decline of the wild tiger population to critical levels, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The WWF estimates that the number of tigers left in the wild has dwindled to around 3,200, less than the number held in captivity, with only around 50 in China. It has warned that tigers may become extinct in the wild in less than a generation.

In a paper published in 1998 called Who will save the wild tiger? Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes, a conservation economist from Johannesburg, South Africa, voices some uncomfortable truths: ‘The problem for tiger conservation today is that currently the benefits are more potential than actual. For most local people, there are only two positive values of live tigers (other than any traditional cultural values they might hold that favour the tiger). First, tigers prey on wild animals such as deer, boar and pig that destroy crops in many areas. Second, some people are employed as staff in protected areas, and thus earn a living from tiger protection. But even then, their salaries are often low, so that the incentive for good performance is lacking.’ Meanwhile, as he points out, demand for tiger parts – particularly bones used in traditional Chinese medicine – is high and ‘Rapid economic growth in countries such as China is likely to increase disposable income, possibly leading people to pay increasingly high prices to obtain tiger products, even illegally. […] Since the benefits of Asian economic growth are not spread uniformly, poor rural people living adjacent to tiger reserves will probably remain poor, so that higher prices for tiger products will make poaching more attractive. Even if demand should fall, the current supply of tiger products may diminish much faster, especially if (as has happened) authorities destroy seized stockpiles of products destined for the market'.

In conclusion, the paper notes that farming tigers could help save the species. At present, it is almost impossible for purchasers to be sure that they are buying genuine tiger bone. Farming would create a quality control and make poached wild tigers less attractive. Tiger farms would create local employment opportunities and a legal fur trade. ‘In sum, most of the interest in tiger conservation occurs in the developed countries,’ says ‘t Sas-Rolfes, ‘But little of that interest translates to actual protection of wild tigers in their natural habitat. Few local people benefit directly from the presence of wild tigers, but they bear considerable costs. It is mostly people in developed countries who benefit from tiger conservation campaigns. […} Governments may resist market-based opportunities but tiger conservationists should not.’

It's a fascinating idea isn't it? But how do you feel about it? After all, we do the same for cows, sheep, goats, chickens ... so why not tigers? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts

And now, back to the writing. Oh, and the terrible Animal Farm book jacket was pertinent only in that there was a big cat depicted. I know. I know. Lazy.


chris hale said...

Yes. I think we've previusly discussed the fact that, in order to prevent the extinction of an animal, we should start breeding it for food. So let's farm tigers.

But I wouldn't want to be there at milking time.

Persephone said...

Actually, that little old lady is a genius. However, I'd say that scalding her was a bit of an extreme reaction, don't you think?

Stevyn Colgan said...

Chris - Mmmm creamy AND stripey.

Persephone - Okay, 'scald' was maybe a little too extreme. I just happened to have a large bath of boiling water with me.