Ban on Wild Tiger Sales 'a Complete Failure'?

Tigers may be going extinct. There were once 100,000 of the grand animals, but today just a few thousand survive.

How do we save them and other endangered species? Well, here's an idea: Let's eat them!

Wild tigers are disappearing because poachers kill them for their skins and to get crushed tiger bone, which is made into paste that some people use as a painkiller.

Actor Harrison Ford does public service announcements supporting the international ban on the sale of exotic animal products.

"When the buying stops, the killing can too," he says in the PSA. "Case closed!"

But the case isn't closed, because outlawing buying and selling hasn't worked. The international ban has been in effect for 33 years, but the population of wild tigers has continued to shrink.

Watch John Stossel's special "You Can't Even Talk About It" tonight on "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET

Grace Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, says what's needed to save the tigers is better law enforcement.

"There needs to be judicial systems in place so that there will be punishments for wildlife crimes [that are] strong enough to have a deterrence power."

But Terry Anderson from PERC, the Property and Environment Resource Center, disagrees.

"If we continue the current approach of no killing, no trading, I think the tiger is doomed," he said.

He believes governments have repeatedly failed when they tried to save animals by banning their sale.

PERC suggests the opposite: let people own wild animals, farm them and sell them.

That's what saved another species. High in the mountains of Montana, Pam and Craig Knowles raise bison.

Millions of these animals once roamed America, but 100 years ago they were almost extinct. Why? Because no one owned them. No ranchers like the Knowles had the incentive to protect them, and people killed them and sold their hides.

"There were a few trappers who saw what was going on and said, this is wrong," said Pam Knowles. "Here's an animal that could provide the whole country with meat."

So people began to fence bison in and eat them. Now America has half a million bison -- that's a way to save animals.

Does America have a shortage of chickens? No. Because we eat them. Do we have a shortage of minks? No. Because people have a reason to protect them.

The Debate Over Farming Endangered Animals

In Africa, rhinos were disappearing because poachers killed them for their horns. African governments banned poaching, but this did little good.

"We're talking about countries, governments and police forces that are often involved in the poaching," said Anderson.

Some government game wardens took bribes, or slept on the job.

"It was a complete failure," said Dr. Brian Child, associate professor of African studies at the University of Florida, who spent years in Africa trying to save rhinos. "Wildlife was disappearing everywhere."

What finally worked, he said, was letting landowners own them and make money off tourism. Suddenly each tribe had skin in the game, and an incentive to protect its own rhinos. Those indifferent security guards became fierce protectors of their tribal rhinos. Anderson asked one what happened if he caught a poacher.

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