Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)
The rhinoceros is a traditional member (along with the elephant, lion, leopard, and Cape buffalo) of the dangerous game Big Five of African big game hunting. The rhino, and especially the black rhino, has been off the available game list for years and years, due to reduced numbers of animals as the result of their continual persecution by poachers. Rhinoceros horns bring lots of money on the black market, being in demand in Arab states as the traditional prestige material for dagger (jambiya) handles and in even more demand in the Orient for use as an aphrodisiac.
The Dallas Safari Club, an affluent and elite organization of experienced hunters, recently made a dramatic effort to do something for the black rhino. They arranged with the government of Namibia for a special permit to be issued to allow one hunter to harvest one black rhino, the permit to be auctioned with the proceeds going for rhino conservation. The animal to be harvested would be a carefully-selected aged bull and a problem animal needing to be harvested for the good of the remainder of the herd. This auction was meant to illustrate in the clearest possible way the direct link between sport hunting and the conservation of endangered game species.
But, despite the generosity of those Texas hunters, a vicious publicity campaign vilifying the auction and its participants and finally threats of violence, was believed to have significantly depressed the bidding, resulting in a much smaller than intended conservation payment.
Diana Rupp, at Sports Afield, told the story in this month’s issue.
In January, at a banquet at the Dallas Safari Club (DSC) convention, something historic and important happened in the annals of hunting as a conservation tool. A permit to hunt a black rhino was auctioned to the highest bidder, fetching a cool $350,000–100 percent of which went straight back into the rhino conservation program in the nation of Namibia, where the hunt will take place.
You probably heard about the controversy surrounding the auction. In the real world of scientific wildlife management, there actually wasn’t much controversy at all about the idea–every important international scientific wildlife organization, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), agreed that auctioning the permit was a sound idea for conservation and that the money it would raise would be of tremendous importance to Namibia’s rhino conservation program. The hunt would target a specific old maleâ€”one that was past its breeding prime and had become dangerous to the young rhinos in its herdâ€”and the money raised from hunting this single, selected rhino would contribute to saving the overall black rhino population.
Namibia hoped that auctioning a permit in the USA would push the price of the permit (and the money going back to its conservation program) to extraordinarily high levels. Unfortunately, it also brought the antihunters out of the woodwork. No amount of explaining the science behind using carefully controlled hunting as a conservation tool could placate the screaming masses who poured their energies into thousands of virulent Internet posts. They were not attempting to raise money to help rhinos–far from it. They were only attempting to stop the hunt.
The online attacks escalated into death threats to DSC members and their families. Whoever purchased the auction tag, it was made clear, would be the target of threats not just to themselves, but to their families and businesses.
Understandably, many potential high-dollar bidders pulled out. You can’t blame them for not wanting to put their family members and employees at risk. And suddenly a tag that at one point might have sold for as much as a million dollars had almost no takers.
Fortunately, several brave and generous DSC supporters stepped into the breach, and the hunter who did purchase the tag (for what is still a record-setting amount), should be considered a conservation hero. One of the loudest detractors of the rhino hunt was Bob Barker, the anti-hunting former host of The Price is Right. Responding to him on CNN’s Piers Morgan Live a few nights after the auction, the hunter said he wanted to tell Bob that, with regard to the rhino permit, “the price was wrong.”
He was correct. This auction should have raised a lot more for conservation, and the only reason it didnâ€™t is because of the shortsighted tactics of closed-minded people who don’t understand wildlife management.