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Leonardo’s sailors: A review of the economic analysis of wildlife trade

Leonardo’s sailors: A review of the economic analysis of wildlife trade

Alejandro Nadal and Francisco Aguayo




Abstract. Illegal trade of wildlife has been recognised as an important driver of biodiversity loss. In many quarters the use of legal markets has been presented as the best policy option for conservation, giving way to the economic analysis of wildlife trade and markets. This paper focuses on the analytical framework used in these analyses and on its deficiencies, both at the conceptual or theoretical level, as well as from an empirical point of view. We examine the implications of using a partial equilibrium framework dominated by comparative statics in all models and the implications of ignoring market structure, strategic behaviour and multi-product operations in key segments of the supply chain. Furthermore, this review considers the way in which demand is conceptualised and the implications of ignoring the role of economic policies. Our study shows that the literature advocating trade as a conservation solution for endangered species relies on models that are based on simplistic and/or extremely restrictive assumptions. In most cases, these models also rely on conceptual tools that have been theoretically discredited. Failure to take into account the theoretical and empirical issues covered in this review undermines recommendations to adopt market-based policies in response to conservation problems.

Keywords. Economic theory, wildlife trade, markets, conservation