Texas Hunter Claims Killing Endangered Species Is Good for Conservation
The Texas hunter who sparked international controversy in 2014 for bidding on the rights to track and kill an endangered black rhino in Namibia has finally brought down his prey — but he certainly hasn’t brought the discussion about the issue down with his victim.
The saga began in 2013, when the Dallas Safari Club worked in cooperation with the Namibian government and the United States Fish and Wildlife service to obtain one of only a handful of hunting permits for black rhinos that are given out annually. The government issues permits for specific older bulls on the grounds that they’re hostile to younger animals and make it harder for herds to breed and rebuild the species. Critics don’t feel so favorable about the practice, however.
In January 2014, hunter Corey Knowlton won killing rights with a $350,000 bid — notably, less than half of the estimated price for the permit. The bizarre twist to the story was that it wasn’t just about trophy hunting: The DSC claimed that it was contributing to conservation by applying the funds from the winning bid towards conservation efforts. In fact, the group suggested, it was helping wild black rhino populations by eliminating problematic older males from the herd while also providing vitally-needed funds for anti-poaching efforts and other measures to save rhinos. US officials agreed, arguing that because many trophy hunters are American, the government could cite the revenue they bring in to pressure other countries to improve their conservation practices.
“Kill one to save many” sounds like extremely strange logic, especially given the issues associated with trophy hunting — like the glorification of killing beautiful animals, and the special permissions that allow hunters to claim body parts as prizes to take home when they’d normally be restricted by import laws. Knowlton, for example, was allowed to take the rhino’s horn and several other parts despite bans on trafficking in rhino horn and other parts of endangered species. There’s also a strange cognitive dissonance in aggressively fighting poaching while granting permits to kill protected species with the other hand, no matter how much Knowlton claimed that the case would encourage people to have an open conversation about conservation.
Knowlton allowed a CNN crew to follow him into the bush, and he had this to say about the controversy surrounding the license and his hunt: “‘I felt like from day one it was something benefiting the black rhino,’ Knowlton reflected just moments after the hunt ended. ‘Being on this hunt, with the amount of criticism it brought and the amount of praise it brought from both sides, I don’t think it could have brought more awareness to the black rhino.’” It’s unclear whether the awareness goal was achieved — the black rhino is one of the most high-profile endangered species in the world. But it’s clear that the hunt certainly didn’t end with benefits for the black rhino involved; the CNN feature’s final chilling image of the deceased rhino lying defeated on the ground is heartbreaking.
Advocates, however, claim that these sorts of “conservation killings” actually do promote welfare for wildlife. Surprisingly, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, regarded as essentially the key authority on animal welfare — they generate the “red list” of endangered species — actually supports trophy hunting of this nature, according to a statement provided to the Washington Post. The group claims that “hunting tourism” should be treated differently than poaching because one is “well managed,” setting aside the larger complication of questions about who decides when animals should be killed, and how. The question of where that money ends up and whether nations with endangered species will have an incentive to tag animals for hunting is also a concern that’s not adequately addressed.
Lest you think the drama is over, the government has already approved a permit request from another hunter, Michael Luzich, for the “necessary evil” of killing a mature black rhino.
Photo credit: Steve Slater