My first reaction to this story was “Aha! Another reason to despise the UN and its tranzi fellow travellers! As if I needed one.” And indeed, there is plenty to despise in this story. It turns out that a thriving market in endangered animal skins has sprung up in Afghanistan to serve the demands of the UN and NGO personnel assigned there.
When I asked him if he had any coats made of snow leopard skin, he said no. But the reason was far from reassuring – he had sold out.
They have become so expensive for us – $500. Too expensive for Afghans but foreigners can buy them,” he said.
We have asked most of the foreigners not to buy these things and if there is not a market from the foreigners the Afghan people probably don’t need it,” [Afghan Environment Minister Yousef Nouristani] says.
“It’s the market created by the foreigners – particularly those who are working with the UN or other NGOs.”
The tooth-grinding hypocrisy of UN and NGO personnel flouting international law banning the trade in these skins is bad enough. The fact that most tranzis are also pious “movement” environmentalists is merely salt in the wound.
However, for dedicated libertarians, it raises one of the perennial dilemmas: what to do with wild animals? Laws restricting the harvesting and sale of wild animal skins, organs, meat, and whatnot would appear to run afoul of libertarian principles espousing free trade and free markets, and indeed the Afghan government is trying to reach the benchmark for protection of these animals set by, gulp, the Taliban.
The dilemma is sharpened in Afghanistan because the dire poverty of many people there puts their interests in direct conflict with protection of endangered species.
Snow leopards are most commonly found in north-eastern Afghanistan in an area known as the Wakhan.
I spoke to Ali Azimi, the author of a report on Afghanistan’s environmental problems, who has just returned from a 10-day trip to the area.
“I was struck by the abject poverty of the people,” he said. “Most can barely afford to have one meal a day.
“And the meal usually consists of a type of grass that grows in the Wakhan six months of the year. Six months it is snowbound.
“What they eat is what has been collected over the summer months – and it is a desperate situation for them. So they’re facing poverty and starvation in the Wakhan.”
This poverty and starvation is forcing people to hunt animals that would normally be the prey of the snow leopards – and the thousands of dollars that some people are prepared to pay for their skins is encouraging poachers to hunt these rare and beautiful creatures.
The long-term solution to these environmental issues is, of course, to raise the level of income and wealth in Afghanistan so that no one is forced to compete with wild animals for survival, and so that the “luxury good” of protected lands and species becomes affordable. In the shorter run (and in the long run as well) it is difficult to see how wild lands and, especially, wild animals can be protected from the tragedy of the commons without some form of state intervention, whether it is via market regulation outlawing the trade in animal products, the purchase and “protection” of lands, the regulation of hunting activity, or some variant or combination of all three.
Thanks to the inevitable and ubiquitous Instapundit for the first link to this story. Thanks also to (this hurts, folks) the BBC for originating the story.