Tiger farming controversy must not be framed in moral terms

Published: Tuesday 15 May 2007

a proposal to farm tigers to legally supply the not inconsiderable market for the animal's body parts has, as is only to be expected, sparked a controversy. Ranged against the proposal are animal rights activists whose arguments range from the practical--pointing to the imponderables inherent in attempts to breed wild animals in captivity on a large scale--to the ethical, raising moral questions about farming an animal for immediate consumption needs. The first set of objections must, of course, be given due consideration, not so much to trash the idea as to ensure that any farming project be carefully thought through. The latter is easily dismissed as fringe faddism: if more mundane creatures can be bred for a variety of ends, not least of which are those nutritional and gastronomical, there should be no reason to entertain a separate register of rights and cosmological considerations for other animals just because they happen to have more exotic pedigrees or sacerdotal status. We shall, for the moment, decline to examine the question of whether one man's pet can be another man's mouthful.

The double standards at times involved in the championship of some animal's rights, as opposed to those of others, should dissolve upon a rational consideration of the issues involved, leaving just one distinction: that between human beings and other animals. Surely, not much time need be expended on the argument that breeding tigers to satisfy a manifest market is in any way comparable to breeding children to meet the demand for human organs.

The proponents of the legalisation of the trade in tiger parts and the farming of the animal point to the possible benefits: principally, a restriction of the illegal trade and, therefore, a reduction in the incidence of poaching and the generation of revenues that could fund the conservation of the animal in the wild, where it belongs. They point to the success of this model with regard to crocodile conservation. But there are problems with the idea. It is, by no means, self-evident that a legal trade in farmed tigers will translate into a reduced incidence of poaching. Nor is it clear that profits from such a trade will go back into conservation. But to dismiss the idea outright could amount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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