The United States Government Promoting Poaching

The federal government has amasses a rather sizable amount of ivory. Its intention is to crush the six tons of illegally gathered elephant remains. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS):

We’re sending a message to ivory traffickers and their customers that the United States will not tolerate this illegal trade. We’re standing with nations that have already destroyed their illegal ivory and showing our commitment to working with partners around the world to stop this trafficking and save elephants.

Leave it to the government to think destroying illegally acquired materials will convince people to stop illegally collecting that material. The supply of ivory is quite limited since its sole source is from a very small portion of the body of a slow growing mammal. Ivory’s status as an illegal material and its relatively scarcity makes it quite valuable indeed. So what happens when six tons of it are crushed into useless dust? It becomes more scarce and therefore more valuable. With the potential for higher profits poachers are willing to take higher risks.

What the FWS is doing sounds good on paper but will only exacerbate the problem. It would be no different than the Drug Enforcement Agency capturing tons of cocaine and burning it. All that would do is cause an increase in the price of cocaine and encourage more production and sales.

Poaching, being an illegal activity, can’t be fought by making the value of poached animal remains more valuable. That further encourages poaching, especially in poorer regions where a subsistence farmer could stand to greatly improve his life by selling a single poached animal carcass. Instead of creating incentives to poach animals we should think of ways to disincentivize poaching. The only way to do that is to devalue the materials. Ivory, for example, could be devalued by finding a viable replacement, such as an indistinguishable synthetic, which could increase the overall supply without requiring the poaching of elephants.