Fewer than 5,000 black rhinos are thought to exist in the wild, and in an effort to preserve the species, the Dallas Safari Club is offering a chance to kill one.
The Texas-based hunting organization is auctioning off a permit to hunt a rhinoceros in Nambia. It's a fundraiser intended to help save the larger population.
The idea may sound counter-intuitive, but Dallas Safari Club executive Ben Carter tells NPR's Jennifer Ludden that raising the funds to support the species is what many scientists and biologists believe is the best way to grow the population of black rhinos.
"It takes money for these animals to exist. A lot of people don't recognize that," Carter says. An endangered species like the black rhino needs a lot of support — land, protection, management, studies. "This is one way to raise a lot of money at one time," he says. "That can make a huge impact on the future of the species."
Predictably, the Jan. 11 auction has raised controversy within the environmental community. There's an online petition, currently just short of 50,000 signatures, calling to stop the auction. Carter and his staff have received a lot of hate mail, including death threats.
Carter says many of those who object are not educated in the role that hunting plays in conservation. A habitat can only sustain a certain population, he says, and any excess can be harvested and used to raise money through selling things like hunting licenses and permits.
The winner of the Dallas Safari Club's auction will hunt a specially selected rhino. Namibia's Department of Wildlife looks for a rhino that's too old to breed — and too aggressive to stay in the herd. When black rhinos get older, Carter says, they remain territorial and sometimes kill younger rhino bulls and calves. He says the department often removes these rhinos for the protection of the population anyway.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges the practice can be helpful, reports The Washington Post:
"The removal of limited numbers of males has been shown to stimulate population growth in some areas," according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Removing specific individuals from a population can result in reduced male fighting, shorter calving intervals and reduced juvenile mortality."
Carter hopes the permit will sell between $225,000 to $1 million at the auction and says all the proceeds will go back to Namibia wildlife, earmarked for black rhinos. The Dallas Safari Club won't make a penny off of the fundraiser, and the auctioneer isn't even charging a fee.
"It's all, 100-percent, going straight to conservation," he says.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:
Fewer than 5,000 black rhinos are thought to exist in the wild, many of them in Namibia. Now, the Dallas Safari Club is looking to help preserve the animal by killing one. The hunting organization is raising funds to save the population by auctioning off a permit to hunt a rhino in Namibia. Dallas Safari Club executive Ben Carter joins us now from his office. Welcome.
BEN CARTER: Hello. How are you?
LUDDEN: Good. I think a lot of people would say wow, this sounds really counterintuitive, to be hunting the rhino that you want to preserve. Can you explain the rationale here?
CARTER: Yes. Well, in talking with scientists and biologists, they feel like this is the best way to grow the population of black rhinos through the ability to raise funds for this.
LUDDEN: Raising all the money is the point of the process.
CARTER: That's exactly right. Wildlife doesn't exist just out there with nobody taking care of it. It takes a lot of protection. It needs land. It needs management. It needs studies. All of that costs money.
LUDDEN: Still, you must be getting a lot of pushback from environmental groups.
CARTER: Well, we are, but I think a lot of the problem is they just aren't educated. I don't think they understand the role that hunting plays in conservation. The habitat will sustain a certain amount of the population and whatever is excess can be harvested and you can raise money from that through selling hunting licenses, different things like that that actually keeps the system working and in place.
LUDDEN: Now, in this case, is it true that you are actually auctioning off the ability to hunt one very specific rhino?
CARTER: That's exactly right. The animal that will be hunted with this permit is one that is a - older, non-breeding bull. He's already lived his life cycle in the breeding part of it with the herd. Black rhinos tend to be very territorial, and they tend to be very aggressive. And unfortunately, when they get to be older and they're not breeding bulls any more, they still are territorial, and they actually are detrimental to the expansion of the herd. What can happen is they can actually kill younger, breeding-class bulls, and they'll also kill cows and calves.
So in many times, the Department of Wildlife will actually remove these animals anyway. There will be members of the Department of Wildlife that will accompany the hunter, and they will select the animal that the Department of Wildlife tells them is the right one that needs to be taken out of the population so that the population will actually continue to grow and expand.
LUDDEN: How much do you expect the permit to go for?
CARTER: Well, we're hoping it'll go anywhere from $225,000 maybe all the way up to $1 million. One hundred percent of the proceeds go back to the Wildlife Trust of Namibia, with 100 percent of those funds being earmarked strictly for black rhino conservation. The Dallas Safari Club will not make a penny off of this. It's all 100 percent going straight to conservation.
LUDDEN: Ben Carter, of the Dallas Safari Club. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
CARTER: Well, thank you. Appreciate it.
LUDDEN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.