In India, China and Russia, there were once 100,000 wild tigers. Today, only a few thousand survive.
They've disappeared because poachers kill them to sell crushed tiger bone, which is made into a paste that is supposed to kill pain.
The usual solution is to ban the sale of these products. Actor Harrison Ford says in a public-service announcement, "When the buying stops, the killing can, too. Case closed!"
But the case isn't closed. The ban is 33 years old, yet the tigers still disappear.
"If we continue the current approach, ... the tiger is doomed," Terry Anderson of PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center (www.perc.org), told me for my ABC special "You Can't Even Talk About It" .
Anderson points out that governments have repeatedly failed to save animals by banning their sale. They've failed with the Colobus monkey in West Africa, the alligator in China and now with the tiger in Asia.
How do we save them? Here's an idea. Let's sell them! And eat them!
A hundred years ago, American bison were almost extinct. Why? Because no one owned them and had the incentive to protect them. People just killed them.
Then ranchers began to fence in the bison and farm them. Today, America has half a million bison.
Does America have a shortage of chickens? No. Because we eat them. I realize this is counterintuitive. Expand animal populations by letting people consume them? The conventional thinking seems so much more sensible -- and sensitive.
But it's simpleminded. In Africa, rhinos were disappearing because poachers killed them for their horns, considered an aphrodisiac. African governments banned the products, but this did little good. A black market, complete with official corruption, arose. The government's game wardens took bribes or slept on the job.
"It was a complete failure," says Dr. Brian Child, who spent 20 years in Africa working to save endangered species. "Wildlife was disappearing everywhere."
What finally worked, he says, was letting landowners own rhinos so they could make money off them from tourism. Suddenly, each tribe had skin in the game, and an incentive to protect its own rhinos.
It's human nature. No government protects resources as effectively as you protect your own property. In Africa, says Anderson, those indifferent security guards suddenly became fierce protectors of their tribal rhinos.