The international ban on the trade in endangered wildlife is more damaging to the survival of species than poaching, according to Keith Madders, a member of the Zimbabwe Trust and Africa Resource Trust and a participant in the Zimbabwean development project, Campfire.
Speaking at last week's meeting on wildlife trade at the Zoological Society of London, Mr Madders said that only by reversing the ban and making hunting expeditions community-led can species survive.
"What is critical to the local people is survival and the link between output and tenurial arrangements on the ground," he said. "If they have long-term tenure on the land they will not want to deplete it, and if the trade in a commodity such as wildlife improves the yield of the land, it will soon replace subsistence agriculture, which by definition is unsustainable."
He argues that international trade should resume even in species as endangered as the rhino: "The ban on trade has been the single most important element contributing to its endangerment," he said. "Rhino are worthless [to Africans] and it makes more economic sense for them to destroy it and its habitat than keep it."
Stuart Chapman, conservation officer for the Worldwide Fund for Nature, spoke of his concern that species such as the tiger, Chinese black bear and rhino are too close to extinction to be able to afford further loss through even legal trade.
He supported the Zimbabwean initiative linking trade with local prosperity but he stressed that strong anti-poaching measures must be in place for it to succeed.
He questioned the relevance of such projects in Asia, where jungle and mountainous terrain afford excellent protection to poachers.
"I imagine it is a lot easier to protect animals in the savannah," he said. "But for the tiger it is an uphill struggle. There are maybe only 200 Siberian tigers left in the wild and the decline from 500 in 1990 is fuelled by illegal trade. The rarer the animal, the higher the price."
Liz Wood, conservation officer specialising in coral fish at the Marine Conservation Society, told delegates that ten million coral fish are sold around the world every year. Some species could be farmed but rarely were. "In countries like the Philippines and Indonesia it is cheaper in the short term to collect from the wild," she said.