For the first time in 33 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has granted a permit to an American hunter to import a black rhino trophy from Africa.
The move certainly set a precedent for importing endangered species trophies – it’s the first time any endangered species trophy has been allowed into the states – and has stirred up controversy about whether or not killing an endangered species can help save them.
Black rhinos are protected under the Endangered Species Act and listed as critically endangered under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which governs their hunting and bans trade unless there are “exceptional circumstances.”
Since 1970, the population has declined more than 90 percent while the demand for rhino horns has led to skyrocketing black market prices and a recent surge in poaching. The number of rhinos killed jumped from 13 in 2007 to 668 in 2012 alone. As of this month, 203 rhinos have already been killed in South Africa this year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
With fewer than 5,000 black rhinos in the wild and the resurgence in poaching it seems obvious to some that no one should be killing them at all, but trophy hunters will clearly not be deterred. Namibia and South Africa were each granted trophy hunting quotas for five black rhinos per year under CITES this year.
When Namibia reopened hunting for the black rhino in 2009, David K. Reinke, CEO of Liberty Parts Team, went there and dropped $215,000 to kill a rhino bull and then applied to the USFWS for a permit to bring home a trophy that stated the import was for the “for the purpose of enhancement of the survival of the species” with the help of the non-profit organization Conservation Force.
“The Service is to be commended for showing good judgment on this issue,” said John J. Jackson, III, of Conservation Force. “This is an important juncture in rhino conservation, when the continued increase of rhino poaching makes it all the more important to raise the funds necessary and incentivize the local people to conserve these animals. Namibia’s black rhino hunting program is a force for conservation, and US Fish and Wildlife has recognized that.”
Critics on the other side of the argument disagree and raised concerns about how this will affect rhinos and other species and whether anyone with enough cash to blow on a trophy hunt will be allowed to kill an endangered species. When the quota was issued, Animal Defenders International also raised the question of how many people will continue to support conservation efforts with donations if animals will just be killed for fun in the end anyway.
When people paid to help save the rhino, did they really imagine it was so that the rhino’s head
could one day hang on someone’s wall?
Teresa Telecky, Director of the Wildlife Department at Humane Society International, told TakePart that the argument that hunters contribute financially to conservation is both ridiculous and unverifiable and that in this instance, the money will be going into a general fund which can be used for all sorts of purposes, including development which would obviously be detrimental to the species.
TakePart also points out the irony of the USFWS granting the permit on the same day that its director Dan Ashe, went on Antiques Roadshow to tell people about the history of the rhino crisis and how it relates to the antiques trade (watch the video below).
Yet, the service is standing by its decision to allow a hunter to import his trophy and believes that the legal quota will help deal with the issue of “surplus males,” while others continue to argue that moving them to help repopulate former range states would be more beneficial to their survival than killing them.
Watch Bonus Interview: Dan M. Ashe, Director, U.S. Fish & Wildlife on PBS. See more from Antiques Roadshow.
Photo credit: filmingilman/flickr