Farm Fresh: Can farmed wildlife save their wild brethren?

Wildlife is facing increasing pressure from the continuously growing human population and one of the measures taken to ease the pressure on wild populations is wildlife farming. But does it actually work?
The aim of organized wildlife farming schemes is to ease the hunting and collection pressure on the wild population. The tropical regions of the world are the areas which feel the anthropogenic impacts from habitat encroachment and resource extraction the most by having the highest rate of human population growth. In addition the tropical regions of the planet has the greatest degree of species richness, biodiversity and species endemism, this makes tropical ecosystems very sensitive to human disruption and development as many species are specialized to a certain niche or confined to select areas(Laurance W F, et.al, 2014) .
Wildlife farming strategies themselves are often approached with skepticism and care by scientists and conservationists, due to the apparent division in positive versus negative conservation results (BULTE, et.al, 2005; Nogueira, et.al, 2011) . But as with other conservation strategies such as legislative measures, area protection and carbon taxing (REDD+), there are positive and negative sides to all depending on the planning and implementation of the strategy (UN, UN-REDD Programme) .
Some conservationists believe that by conserving large species, and with that their ecological function and their habitats, one may save a myriad of other species under what is known as the umbrella species concept (Okullo P, et.al, 2013) . Although physically smaller species such as small mammals, reptiles, birds and insects are affected, it is the larger species who often take the brunt of human impact through trophy hunting, sustenance hunting, illegal pet trade and poaching, in addition to the damage done by increasing habitat encroachment (Wilfred, 2012; Gibson 2011) . The umbrella species concept describes that some species and their population dynamics can have large impacts on other species or entire ecosystems (Okullo P, et.al, 2013) . This in turn means that conservation of large wildlife can benefit entire ecosystems if done correctly (Roberge et.al, 2004) .
Many studies and conservation workers are occupied with understanding how to conserve ecosystems and species most effectively, and there have been many strategies which have been developed and implemented (Bryan, et.al, 2010; Hayward, 2011; Lewis, et.al, 1997) . Among the realm of conservation strategies farming of large wildlife to alleviate hunting pressure is the one which creates the most controversy. By reviewing some of the contemporary literature on wildlife farming I will try to answer two questions; i) Is wildlife farming contributing to conservation? ii) Are there parameters which makes one species more suitable for wildlife farming than others?

Wildlife farming practices

Farming of wildlife falls under a category of conservation tools known as supply side approaches (BULTE, et.al 2005) . This is a term used for conservation strategies which focus on developing a cheaper and more accessible substitute for a resource which is experiencing unsustainable consumption (BULTE, et.al 2005) .
Wildlife farming differs from traditional farming in that the animals bred for consumption or resource harvest are non-domesticated species such as crocodiles and antelope species, rather than cows and chickens (Nogueira, et.al, 2011) . Wildlife farming practices can be divided into several strategies, among those are; a) In house farming – Where animals are kept within a restricted space and bred within the confinements of that space, much like a traditional close quarters farm environment. When an animal reaches a certain size or age it goes back into the breeding stock, gets released into the wild as part of restocking programs, or is harvested for its resources. b) Ranching – Is where you collect wild individuals, juveniles or eggs of the species for rearing and future utilization. A practice commonly found in crocodile utilization and conservation strategies. Or when you keep a breeding stock of animals under semi-wild fenced conditions and only supply the animals with protection and extra feed if necessary (BULTE et.al, 2005; Drury, 2009) . These strategies have in common that the animals are kept in a farm like environment where they are fed and kept until they are of a size or age where their resource value surpasses the price of keeping them.

Wildlife farming, although controversial, is believed by some to benefit the preservation of local wildlife by removing some of the hunting and habitat encroachment pressures otherwise exerted upon them by humans. By farming animals that traditionally have been hunted for either income or for sustenance purposes, one can give locals a source of animal protein and an alternative income while leaving the wild populations to expand (Damania, et.al, 2007) . In some cases, one could also keep a breeding stock to restock the wild populations in case of a population crash or in cases where hunting and use of wildlife products are important cultural factors.
One of the main critiques of taking wild individuals to stock breeding populations or for ranching purposes, is that one might be depleting wild populations of genetically important animals in cases where the species in question already are rare (Nogueira, et.al, 2011) . This is a serious issue for species sensitive to changes in their population dynamics and in small populations in situations where farmers do not restock the wild population as they should, and it should be countered with a sound management plan tailored for each situation.

Case studies

To better understand the impacts and challenges of wildlife farming we must take a look at the projects where this has been used as a conservation tool. By analyzing the patterns of successful and non-successful projects, one can get an idea of what factors decide if a project will be successful or not.
The crocodile conundrum.
Crocodiles pose a serious threat to peoples’ livelihood in tropical regions as they are the apex predators in their ecosystem. Despite the potential dangers related to crocodiles, they are also regarded as a valuable resource to traditional landowners, locals and to systematic farming. Crocodiles are farmed and ranched for three main reasons; meat production, reselling of eggs and skin/leather production. Due to a boom in crocodile products in the mid 1900’s many species were hunted to the brink of extinction, but after legal protection and population management many crocodilian species are rebounding towards historic numbers (Thorbjarnarson, 1992) .
The rebound of crocodilians has been attributed to large scale ranching programs paired with legal protection through CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). By opening for long term ranching schemes, the local populations of rural tropical areas have been given an incentive to stop the illegal and non-regulated hunt of crocodilians by being attracted to more permanent solutions such as crocodile ranching work, sustainable egg collection for reselling, and work in the tourism sector (Thorbjarnarson, 1992; Fukuda, et.al 2011) . All of this taking some of the unsustainable pressure off the wild populations and leaving them to rebound.
But there is also evidence pointing towards farming practices being responsible for population declines in some of the most threatened species such as the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) and the Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis). This has been accredited to large scale farming failing to involve local communities, hence not removing the collection and hunting pressure of the wild population and/or not restocking the habitat. The laundering effect has also been blamed, which means that the legal marked has been abused to trade skins from rare and protected species through forging of paperwork and registering skins as originating from legal trade species (Thorbjarnson, 1999; BULTE, et.al, 2005) .

A key factor to the Nile crocodile’s survival and post threat success is the successful farming of the species which involves all stakeholders and strict monitoring and protocol. In the case of the Chinese alligator and Philippines crocodile that is still not yet the case.

Porcupine produce

The Southeast Asian Porcupine (Hystrix brachyura) is being bred for consumption in wild meat restaurants in Vietnam. Despite the farming practices and the illegality of wild animal utilization, large scale collection from the wild is still a major conservation challenge (Brooks, et.al, 2010; IUCN Red List, Listing; Hystrix brachyura) .
One investigation into the porcupine farming industry in Vietnam uncovered that many farmers still regularly collected from the wild. Of the farmers interviewed by the researchers 58% of them admitted to getting their founding stock from the wild, and 31% of these kept buying wild caught porcupine despite the ban. Wild collection for founder stock occurs although all the interviewed farmers told the researchers that they sold porcupines to other farmers for founder stock. Some farmers stated that the porcupine farmers did not produce enough porcupines to meet the demand for meat from restaurants, and admitted to capturing or buying wild individuals as a mean to increase their volume (Brooks, et.al, 2010) .
The researchers also uncovered that the price of wild caught porcupines was considerably lower than that of captive bred individuals. This is due to the investment put into breeding and keeping farmed porcupine, which drives the selling price up. Wild caught individuals do not require the seller to invest in feed, buying founding stocks and building enclosures, which keeps the selling price lower.
There was also a wide spread conviction among restaurant patrons that wild meat is of higher quality due to it being a “natural” product. This makes it attractive for restaurants to take a chance on buying wild specimens to save money and attract customers, hence putting more pressure on the wild porcupine population by increasing the demand for wild caught meat.
Although the porcupine is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) the increasing collection pressure on wild populations from increased popularity for farming porcupine, sustenance users, and for medicinal purposes has shown to have a negative effect on the porcupines in Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia (IUCN Red List, Listing; Hystrix brachyura) .

Kudu pass me the meat?

The greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) is a large species of Antelope native to eastern and southern Africa. They are regarded as a prized and popular game animal for both sustenance and trophy hunters due to their high-quality meat and the bulls large curled horns (IUCN Red List, 2016) . According to estimates made by Patterson & Khosa, hunting the Greater Kudu was responsible for the highest revenue of all game species in South Africa (Patterson & Khosa, 2005) . This is likely due to a combination of being a very popular trophy hunting animal bringing in a high number of hunting license applications, and the high price for licenses to shoot a trophy buck. In addition, the meat produced from Kudu is considered of high quality and is exported internationally (Patterson & Khosa, 2005) ..
The Kudu has disappeared from parts of its range in eastern Africa, but due to large scale ranch style farming the IUCN Red List authority regard the species global population as stabile and of Least Concern (LC). The estimates done for the IUCN by the Species Survival Commission: Antelope Specialist Group shows that 61% of the population of Greater Kudu lives on private land consisting of mainly wildlife farms and ranches. The remainder of the population live on protected areas (15%), while the last 24% live elsewhere (IUCN SSC ASG, 2008) . The populations living on private and protected lands are doing well and are generally increasing under management plans, while the 24% living off these fenced and/or protected areas are decreasing.
The fact that the eastern population is declining may be contributed to the historic and current instability in that region, which make large scale industrial breeding and ranching of game more challenging. A bulk of the farms producing Kudu for hunting and sustenance purposes are settled in the comparatively richer and more stable South Africa and is contributing to their national GDP on a large scale. Estimates has shown that trophy hunting, which is mainly arranged on private ranch lands, alone created around 100 million US dollars in revenue in 2006, not including meat sales, livestock sales or safari tourism revenues (Lindsey, et.al, 2006) . A large portion of this revenue stems directly from hunting kudu on private game reserves and ranches. Most of the money made in the farming industries are funneled back into ranching and farming, but some regularly also contribute to conservation of other species and habitat protection (Lindsey, et.al, 2006; Lewis, et.al, 1997) .

The greater Kudu, an example of successful wildlife farming in regions of its natural territory which is politically and economically stable, yet it still declines in regions with less stability.

Choosing livestock and strategy

Supply side approaches have some constraints when it comes to alleviating the pressure of the species where the poaching intensities are the highest such as elephants (Loxodonta ssp, Elephas maximus), rhinos (Family Rhinocerotidae), tigers (Panthera tigris ssp.) and bears (Family Ursidae). These animals have longer generation times and fewer offspring per breeding season than for example antelopes or wild pig species. This means that one would need an enormous stock of breeding animals in several cohorts to be able to meet the product demand for products like ivory or bear bile for the Asian markets. With elephants reaching sexual maturity at the minimum age of 4 years in captivity and having a gestation time of 22 months, this approach would be extremely time consuming (HILDEBRANDT, et.al, 2006) . Additionally, one would need vast areas to accommodate the breeding stock, paired with large amounts of feed for the animals as fenced off areas, such as ranchland, get depleted of food after some time.
Challenges with raising predators such as bears and tigers, in addition to area demands, feed costs, long gestation times and cub retention, is that they seldom accept conspecifics of the same sex within their territory (Dahle, et.al, 2003; Miquelle, et.al, 2015) . This means that in most cases the animals would need separate secured enclosures to ensure the safety of both staff and animals, which raises the costs of raising wildlife, which has in some cases been shown to increase poaching pressure when governmental or international intervention is absent (Damania, et.al, 2007) .

While researching the topic of wildlife farming I discovered that the successful wildlife breeding schemes are the ones focusing on animals used for i) local sustenance hunting such as peccaries and antelope species, and/or ii) animals with high breeding yield and/or short generation times such as crocodilians and guinea pigs (Nogueira, et.al, 2011; Thorbjarnarson, 1999) .
While solitary animals, animals with large range requirements and long generation times are less likely to succeed under a farm or ranch style conservation scheme.

So, does it work?

Even if conservation through wildlife farming has several positive sides to it, one needs to approach this issue with some care. There are occasions where large scale in-house farming has neglected to include locals and traditional landowner into their schemes, thereby not giving them incentives to stop local harvesting of animals for food or other resources and keeping the harvest pressure on the wild population.

If wildlife farming of endangered species is to be successful it also needs to be legal to trade with the animal or its derivatives. To be able to successfully distribute the animal resources produced under wildlife farming schemes one also needs to work with the legislative apparatus for trade in animals and animal products, CITES, as well as local and international law enforcement agencies. A drawback of legalization of trade in endangered species however is that once trade with an animal has been made legal, illegitimate traders might see loopholes in the legislature and take advantage of these. Problems with “laundering” or “white washing” of animal products through false paperwork is a common critique to the approach of wildlife farming from conservation workers. With good reason.
Studies have shown that lowered marked prices for farmed wildlife commodities have increased the demand, which when the demand later changed from farmed to wild and “natural” products led to illegal trade through “laundering” of illegal stocks as legal. This is commonly done through falsifying of paperwork to be able to sell poached and illegally collected animal products through legal channels (Damania, et.al, 2007 ;Thorbjarnarson, 1999) .
The implementation of any conservation strategy should be preceded by a thorough planning stage, taking into consideration political and economic factors as well as ecological.

Wildlife farming is not to be seen as a standalone solution to the threats of dwindling populations of large vertebrate species, but it is a tool ecologist’s and conservationists should not completely discard. Looking at the numbers of animals already brought back from the brink of extinction through captive breeding and ranching schemes we cannot simply abandon the idea based on the thought that wildlife farming has not been sufficiently analyzed or that it is another way for humans to interfere with ecosystems and profit from animals.
Paired with trade and protection legislation, community participation, REDD+, Wildlife Premium Mechanisms, and other conservation tools, the wildlife farming and ranching industries may function as a positive force in conservation efforts.

There seems to be no certain way to ensure the success of a wildlife farming scheme. There are however measures which can be taken to heighten the chances of implementation success. Researchers and conservation workers should work across fields of expertise so that ecologists, biologists and conservationists draw on the expertise of economists, social scientists and political scientists. Before any conservation strategies are put into place one needs to assess the political, economic and ecological factors that may have implications for the outcome of such a project. This way we can outline the details of all, or at least most, of the challenges wildlife are facing and develop conservation strategies tailored to the specific challenge and region where it is supposed to be implemented.

In the end it goes to show that if wildlife farming is to be used as an effective conservation tool, one needs to consider the species, the strategy, the trade legislation, and the overall political climate if conservation is to be successful.

References:

Laurance W F, Sayer J, and Cassman K G, “Agricultural expansion and its impacts on tropical nature”, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, February 2014, Vol. 29, No. 2

BULTE, E. H. and DAMANIA, R. “An Economic Assessment of Wildlife Farming and Conservation” Conservation Biology, 2005, 19: 1222–1233

Nogueira, S S C,  Nogueira-Filho,” Wildlife farming: an alternative to unsustainable hunting and deforestation in Neotropical forests?”, Biodiversity and Conservation, 2011, Vol. 20, No.7

UN-REDD Programme http://www.un-redd.org

Okullo P, et.al “Termites, Large Herbivores, and Herbaceous Plant Dominance Structure Small Mammal Communities in Savannahs”, Ecosystems, 2013, 16, 1002-1012

Wilfred P, “Trophy Hunting and Trophy Size in Ugalla Game Reserve, Western Tanzania”, Tanzania Journal of Science 2012

Gibson L, Lee T M, Lian P K, Brook B W, Gardner T A, Barlow J, Peres C A, Bradshaw C J A, Laurance W F, Lovejoy T,  Sodhi N S “Primary forests are irreplaceable for sustaining tropical biodiversity”, Nature, 2011, 478, 378–381

Okullo P, et.al “Termites, Large Herbivores, and Herbaceous Plant Dominance Structure Small Mammal Communities in Savannahs”, Ecosystems, 2013, 16, 1002-1012

Roberge, J M, Angelstam, P. “Usefulness of the Umbrella Species Concept as a Conservation Tool” Conservation Biology, 2004, 18: 76–85

BRYAN B A, RAYMOND C M, CROSSMAN N D, KING D, “Comparing Spatially Explicit Ecological and Social Values for Natural Areas to Identify Effective Conservation Strategies” 2010, Conservation Biology

Hayward, M W “Using the IUCN Red List to determine effective conservation strategies”, Biodiversity and Conservation, 2011

Lewis, D. M. and Alpert, P. (1997), “Trophy Hunting and Wildlife Conservation in Zambia”. Conservation Biology, 11: 59–68

BULTE, E. H. and DAMANIA, R. “An Economic Assessment of Wildlife Farming and Conservation” Conservation Biology, 2005, 19: 1222–1233

BULTE, E. H. and DAMANIA, R. “An Economic Assessment of Wildlife Farming and Conservation” Conservation Biology, 2005, 19: 1222–1233

Nogueira, S S C,  Nogueira-Filho,” Wildlife farming: an alternative to unsustainable hunting and deforestation in Neotropical forests?”, Biodiversity and Conservation, 2011, Vol. 20, No.7

BULTE, E. H. and DAMANIA, R. “An Economic Assessment of Wildlife Farming and Conservation” Conservation Biology, 2005, 19: 1222–1233

Drury, R. (2009), “Reducing urban demand for wild animals in Vietnam: examining the potential of wildlife farming as a conservation tool.”, Conservation Letters, 2: 263–270

Damania R, Bulte E H, “The economics of wildlife farming and endangered species conservation”, Ecological Economics, 2007, Volume 62, Issues 3–4, Pages 461–472

Nogueira, S S C,  Nogueira-Filho,” Wildlife farming: an alternative to unsustainable hunting and deforestation in Neotropical forests?”, Biodiversity and Conservation, 2011) Vol. 20, No.7

Thorbjarnarson, J. B. “Crocodiles. An action plan for their conservation”, IUCN, SSC Crocodile Specialist Group, 1992

Thorbjarnarson, J. “Crocodile Tears and Skins: International Trade, Economic Constraints, and Limits to the Sustainable Use of Crocodilians.”, Conservation Biology, 1999, 13: 465–470.

Fukuda Y, et.al “Recovery of Saltwater Crocodiles Following Unregulated Hunting in Tidal Rivers of the Northern Territory, Australia”, 2011, The Journal of Wildlife Management 75(6):1253–1266;

Thorbjarnarson, J. “Crocodile Tears and Skins: International Trade, Economic Constraints, and Limits to the Sustainable Use of Crocodilians.”, Conservation Biology, 1999, 13: 465–470

BULTE, E. H. and DAMANIA, R. “An Economic Assessment of Wildlife Farming and Conservation” Conservation Biology, 2005, 19: 1222–1233

IUCN Red List, Listing; Hystrix brachyura http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/10749/0 24/04-2017

Brooks E G E, Roberton S I, Bell D I, “The conservation impact of commercial wildlife farming of porcupines in Vietnam”, Biological Conservation, 2010, Volume 143

Brooks E G E, Roberton S I, Bell D I, “The conservation impact of commercial wildlife farming of porcupines in Vietnam”, Biological Conservation, 2010, Volume 143

IUCN Red List, Listing; Hystrix brachyura http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/10749/0 24/04-2017

IUCN Red List, Listing; Tragelaphus strepsiceros http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22054/0

Patterson C, Khosa P “BACKGROUND RESEARCH PAPER: A STATUS QUO STUDY ON THE PROFESSIONAL AND RECREATIONAL HUNTING INDUSTRY IN SOUTH AFRICA”, Prepared for the Panel of Experts appointed by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, South Africa, 2005

Patterson C, Khosa P “BACKGROUND RESEARCH PAPER: A STATUS QUO STUDY ON THE PROFESSIONAL AND RECREATIONAL HUNTING INDUSTRY IN SOUTH AFRICA”, Prepared for the Panel of Experts appointed by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, South Africa, 2005

IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group “Tragelaphus strepsiceros”, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2008

Lindsey P A, Roulet P A, Roman SS, “Economic and conservation significance of the trophy hunting industry in sub-Saharan Africa”, Biological conservation, 2005

Lindsey P A, Roulet P A, Roman SS, “Economic and conservation significance of the trophy hunting industry in sub-Saharan Africa”, Biological conservation, 2005

Lewis, D. M. and Alpert, P. (1997), “Trophy Hunting and Wildlife Conservation in Zambia.” Conservation Biology, 11: 59–68

HILDEBRANDT, T. B., GÖRITZ, F., HERMES, R., REID, C., DEHNHARD, M. and BROWN, J. L. “Aspects of the reproductive biology and breeding management of Asian and African elephants Elephas maximus and Loxodonta Africana”, International Zoo Yearbook, 2006, 40: 20–40

Dahle B, Swenson J E, ”Seasonal range size in relation to reproductive strategies in brown bears Ursus arctos”, Journal of animal ecology, 2003, 72

MIQUELLE D G, SMIRNOV E N, ZAUMYSLOVA O Yu, SOUTYRINA S V and JOHNSON D H. “Population dynamics of Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) in Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik: 1966–2012”. Integrative Zoology, 2015, 10: 315–328

Damania R, Bulte E H, “The economics of wildlife farming and endangered species conservation”, Ecological Economics, 2007, Volume 62, Issues 3–4, Pages 461–472

Nogueira, S.S.C. & Nogueira-Filho,” Wildlife farming: an alternative to unsustainable hunting and deforestation in Neotropical forests?”, Biodiversity and Conservation, 2011) Vol. 20, No.7

Thorbjarnarson, J. “Crocodile Tears and Skins: International Trade, Economic Constraints, and Limits to the Sustainable Use of Crocodilians.”, Conservation Biology, 1999, 13: 465–470.

Damania R, Bulte E H, “The economics of wildlife farming and endangered species conservation”, Ecological Economics, 2007, Volume 62, Issues 3–4, Pages 461–472

Thorbjarnarson, J. “Crocodile Tears and Skins: International Trade, Economic Constraints, and Limits to the Sustainable Use of Crocodilians.”, Conservation Biology, 1999, 13: 465–470.

Joe Kristoffer Partyka
About Joe Kristoffer Partyka 8 Articles
Joe Kristoffer Partyka graduated from the University of Oslo with a BSc in general biology and ecology. He is currently working as a wildlife educator at The Bear Park in Norway while looking for a suitable master's project. Joe's main interest lies with the behaviour, physiology and ecology of large predators, especially crocodilians. In addition to the work he does at the zoo he also tutors a class in scientific communication and journalism at the University of Oslo, and previously held the position as an editor of Argument magazine.
Contact: Website

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


*