The Best Way to Save Endangered Antelope: Allow Hunting on Private Preserves

Thom Lambert —  31 March 2012

There’s some good news on the endangered species front:  Three species of endangered African antelopes — the Scimitar-Horned Oryx, Addax, and Dama Gazelle — are coming back with a vengeance.  At least in Texas, where the population of the three antelope species quadrupled from 2004 to 2010, growing to a combined total of around 17,000.

What’s the secret?  Private property rights and markets.  In 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which administers the Endangered Species Act (ESA), created a blanket exception from the ESA’s “taking” prohibition for captive-bred U.S. antelope.  FWS recognized that the rare African antelopes have great value to trophy hunters and, accordingly, to ranchers who are able set aside ideal habitat for the creatures.  The prospect of hefty bounties — up to $10,000 per antelope — has encouraged the formation of private preserves, much to the benefit of the three endangered species.

Unfortunately, an environmental organization operating under the misnomer “Friends of Animals” sued to stop hunting of the antelopes on private preserves.  “Hunting these antelope is no way to save them or treat them with dignity,” proclaimed the Friends of Animals vice-president (apparently ignoring the data on the antelopes’ population explosion in Texas). 

Today’s WSJ reports that Friends of Animals has procured new rules that will require exotic ranchers to obtain costly individual take permits for every instance of hunting.  Faced with the prospect of having to navigate the costly and time-consuming permit process, many exotic ranchers are considering whether to abandon their antelope operations altogether.  If they do so, we can expect the worldwide population of these antelope species to dwindle.  Yet another consequence of our perverse Endangered Species Act, which renders listed species a liability to landowners (thereby encouraging a “shoot, shovel, and shut up” strategy) and fights all efforts to encourage market-based conservation efforts.

Thom Lambert

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I am a law professor at the University of Missouri Law School. I teach antitrust law, business organizations, and contracts. My scholarship focuses on regulatory theory, with a particular emphasis on antitrust.

2 responses to The Best Way to Save Endangered Antelope: Allow Hunting on Private Preserves

  1. 

    Is there any indication that private preserves will lead to better outcomes for wild populations? Does some fraction of captive animals get released into the wild, or do they do a better job of preserving genetic diversity than public zoos or conservation agencies? For example, I know that the American bison is a poster child for the idea that tasty species don’t go extinct. But that doesn’t mean that we see wild bison roaming the Western prairies anymore, either. Or is the bison population of Yellowstone there in part thanks to ranchers?

    I’ve heard the idea before, but I doubt simple existence is all that animal rights groups want. And I’m not sure that there is a clear path from private parties breeding endangered species for consumption or hunting and preserving that species in the wild. On the other hand, at least that does ensure that the species will continue to exist _somewhere_ if it goes extinct in the wild, so it sounds to me like a good contingency plan, but I don’t think it works as a primary plan for conservation efforts.

  2. 

    On the plus side, perhaps the ranchers will just let these now-valueless animals free, and we’ll have oryx running amok in Texas.