This weekend the Dallas Safari Club (DSC) successfully auctioned off a permit to hunt an endangered black rhino for $350,000, despite protests from animal advocates who questioned the organization’s motives and raised concerns about how trophy hunting hurts conservation efforts.
In October, the DSC stirred up quite a bit of controversy when it announced it would be auctioning off a permit to kill one of the world’s last black rhinos, at the time claiming it was a solution to help “save” the species from extinction.
The DSC obtained permission from both the Namibian government and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for a special permit that would give the winner a chance to kill one of Namibia’s estimated 1,800 black rhinos.
Namibia has been authorized by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to sell up to five hunting permits a year, but they’ve never been sold outside of the country until now. This time around, the government appears to be going straight for the crowd with the most money to drive up the price.
DSC executive director Ben Carter said in October that killing one black rhino could be justified by donating the money it raised to the Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia’s Black Rhino.
There were just a few problems with the DSC’s plan. For starters, Save the Rhino Trust had no idea this was going on and has been trying to clear its name since the media started spreading the story, stating on its website that it was not involved with the DSC and has no authority when it comes to decisions regarding rhino hunts:
We do not directly receive money from hunting, we have nothing to do with hunting, and we have not at all been approached in this regard either, so to say that we will be receiving money from a rhino hunt is entirely inaccurate. We are not responsible for hunting and we are not associated with hunting. Our job at Save the Rhino Trust is to save rhino and that is exactly what we do every waking hour of our lives.
Marcia Fargnoli, the organization’s chief executive officer, also told CNN that they’ve been working to get the government to stop issuing permits for hunts.
The funds are now reportedly being donated to the Game Products Trust Fund in Namibia. That little glitch aside, conservationists continue to argue that the move to kill something to save it is illogical at best and public backlash has been fierce.
The DSC has been plagued by death threats since the announcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is now investigating. When asked why the group won’t do a photo safari instead, Carter said it’s because people don’t pay for that sort of thing, and further tried to justify the move by saying that it would be an old bull rhino who had no further value as a breeding male.
“First and foremost, this is about saving the black rhino,” Carter said in a statement. “There is a biological reason for this hunt, and it’s based on a fundamental premise of modern wildlife management: populations matter; individuals don’t. By removing counterproductive individuals from a herd, rhino populations can actually grow.”
Conservationists, however, disagree. As others have continued to argue, putting a price tag on the head of an animal that makes it more valuable dead than alive is a dangerous move, especially considering how hard wildlife advocates have been fighting to stop poachers from doing just that. Rhinos have long had a target on their backs because of the value their horns have on the black market.
The Humane Society and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), among others, also argue that killing wildlife hurts ecotourism and with so few left in the wild, every individual matters.
“If black rhinos and other dwindling species are to have a future, people must be encouraged to value animals for their inherent worth, not for their closing price at a Texas auction house,” said Jeffrey Flocken, IFAW’s North American Regional Director.
“All the DSC is accomplishing is kicking up more enthusiasm for hunting in an era when conservationists are struggling to prevent mass extinctions. Instead of helping the conservation cause, as they claim to be doing, the Dallas Safari Club is sending the message that killing endangered animals is not only fun, but conscientious as well.”
With fewer than 5,000 remaining in the wild, black rhinos are critically endangered and are supposed to be getting the highest level of protection we can give them. The U.S. is supposed to be working to block the import of endangered species and end the trade in rhino horn, not supporting the whims of trophy hunters, sending mixed messages about conservation – saying no to poachers and yes to wealthy thrill killers – and setting a dangerous precedent for the future slaughter and import of species who are on the brink.
The winner of the auction is reportedly unknown and could be from anywhere in the world. A decision about whether or not someone will be allowed to bring a trophy home from this hunt if the winner was a U.S. citizen hasn’t been made yet. Conservationists are hoping the answer is no. The FWS already drew criticism last year for allowing a hunter to import a trophy from a black rhino for the first time in 33 years, which raised concerns about the future of imports.
Please sign and share the petition asking the U.S. government to block the future import of a rhino trophies. True conservation efforts should involve protecting wild animals and their habitats, along with working with local communities, not giving whoever is willing to spend the most money a chance to kill a rare species and bring a tasteless trophy home.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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