Ecocentric

Poachers, Not Big Game Hunters, Are the Real Threat to Endangered Rhinos [UPDATED]

Many conservationists were outraged when the Dallas Safari Club auctioned off the right to kill a critically endangered black rhino. But a legal hunt might just help the species—and won't hurt the bigger fight against poaching

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Alan Becker via Getty Images

There are just 5,000 black rhinos left in the world, which is why conservationists are so angry about a legal hunt

Once hundreds of thousands of black rhinoceroses roamed much of southern Africa. But since the 1960s, their numbers have dropped sharply, thanks largely to poaching, since their horns are highly valued in traditional medicine. Today there are just about 5,000 black rhinos left, living on a fraction of their old territory. That makes them a critically endangered species, just a couple of stops away from becoming extinct.

So it may not be surprising that many conservationists were outraged when they heard that the Dallas Safari Club (DSC)—a Texan group for big game hunters—had auctioned off the legal right to hunt and kill a black rhino in the southern African country of Namibia. The cost: $350,000, won by an unknown bidder. More surprising, the group says the auction was done in the name of conservation, with the money going to support conservation efforts in Namibia. To save the black rhinos, they have to kill one.

That seems absurd to conservationists like Jeffrey Flocken, the North American regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a major anti-poaching group. Last week on his blog Flocken wrote:

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.

(MORE: After Syria, Hillary Clinton Talks Wildlife Trafficking at the White House)

Flocken wasn’t the only one to be angered by the move: the FBI is investigating alleged death threats made against the club, and a few dozen people gathered on Jan. 11 outside the auction to voice their opposition. Though DSC said the auction and accompanying convention had record attendance, the winning bid was much less than the $1 million organizers had hoped to raise. “There’s no question in my mind that the negative publicity dissuaded some people from bidding,” Richard Cheatham, the DSC’s volunteer general counsel, told the Dallas Morning News.

Park rangers and wildlife officials in Namibia—which is considered a model for its success in combating poaching—will benefit from the $350,000 raised at the DSC auction. But surely, with just 5,000 black rhinos left living in the wild, can it possibly serve the species to allow one of them to be hunted and killed? Conservationists are meant to do just that—conserve. What role then does killing of any kind have.

But the situation might not be as clear-cut as that. The permit auctioned off by the DSC is one of five made available each year by Namibia, and it stipulates that only an older male black rhino—past the age of reproduction—is allowed to be killed. More than that, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)—which deals with endangered species—removing a handful of such older males may help the larger population survive:

Black rhinos are very territorial. The removal of post-reproductive males can reduce competition with younger bulls, potentially providing those younger bulls with a greater opportunity to reproduce.

(MORE: Obama Moves to Fight Wildlife Trafficking in Africa. But the Real Work Is in Asia

The Namibian government tracks all known black rhinos in the country, making it possible—according to FWS—to select the specific individuals that can be safely and productively removed from the population. It’s not a surefire thing—M. Sanjayan, the lead scientist at the Nature Conservancy, compares the idea of “sustainable hunting” to trying to fight global warming by recycling. It won’t hurt the cause, but it won’t do a whole lot either.

Conservationists might worry that any trophies—basically rhino body parts—taken from the hunt might enter the black market, encouraging further killing, but the FWS notes that selling such a memento would be a violation of the Endangered Species Act or the Lacey Act, both of which carry penalties of prison time and large fines. It’s almost certain that any trophy taken would end up stuffed and mounted on the hunter’s wall, not ground up to be sold for traditional medicine.

As for the idea that a legal black rhino hunt would directly lead to more poaching, poachers don’t need any more encouragement than they already have. Rhino horns can be worth as much as $300,000 on the black market, while the criminal penalties for poaching or trafficking in many African countries is little more than a fine. There’s a reason wildlife trafficking is now a $7-$10 billion market, making it the fifth most lucrative illegal enterprise in the world—and one that global criminal syndicates are now getting involved in. While Namibia takes good care of its endangered species—and reaps the tourism benefits—rangers in many African nations are hopelessly outgunned by increasingly sophisticated poachers. The result is a catastrophe—last year a record number of rhinos were killed in South Africa, with nearly a thousand poached for their horns, up from just 22 a decade ago. One highly regulated hunt in Namibia won’t change the bloodbath, and will at least supply rangers with some of the funds needed to even the odds.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t something ethically icky about choosing to spend $350,000—plus expenses—to hunt and kill one of the last 5,000 or so black rhinos left on this planet, no matter the higher purpose. And there’s a legitimate concern that any form of legal hunting will hurt the global effort to reduce the demand for wild animal products, which is growing rapidly in Asian countries like China. Sanjayan notes that when the Asian public is asked where the ivory tusks used to make traditional medicine products come from, they believe that there’s simply found on animals that have died naturally, not ones that were hunted and killed. “If the U.S. is allowing this to happen, it’s very difficult with a uniform voice to plead with our Asian counterparts not to buy rhino horns,” he says. “It confuses the message.”

I know why people were so instinctively angry when news came out that a hunting club had put a bounty on a blameless rhino. But the truth is that every rhino, elephant and other ivory carrying species already has a bounty on its head—and will until the world gets serious about fighting wildlife trafficking. “In the long run we have to fight the demand for ivory,” says Sanjayan. That’s where the anger should really be directed.

(MORE: At CGI, a Commitment to Stop the Bloody Slaughter of African Elephants)

Update 1/13/14, 4:57 PM: I want to add a response from Dr. Rosie Cooney of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest conservation group. She notes that the IUCN is supportive of the auction, arguing that what the DSC is doing will not increase the number of black rhinos that will be killed—Namibia selects five to be culled each year—and that the auction at least allows more money to be directed towards wildlife protection:

I’m afraid while it would be nice to be able to recommend alternative approaches for conservation that don’t involve killing animals (even those that will no longer contribute to population growth), we view trophy hunting as playing an important and generally effective role in conservation over large areas of Africa in particular, with important local livelihood benefits in some contexts, such as in Namibia. Tourism can be a very effective and successful approach in certain circumstances, and in Namibia is widely employed alongside trophy hunting, or in areas that have previously generated revenue from trophy hunting after they reach a certain level of social and infrastructure development. However, successful tourism relies on a high level of capacity, capital, infrastructure, large wildlife populations, political stability and a scenic environment – all of which may be lacking; and it generally generates considerably greater environmental impact (through roads and infrastructure, water use, rubbish generation etc) than limited, carefully managed hunting.

In this case, a $350,000 hunt might be the best option available.

18 comments
LouiseDickinson
LouiseDickinson

The Namibian and SA Governments each ,  issue 5 hunting permit  every year ; to kill 10 Black Rhinos for Trophies , by mostly American Trophy Hunters .  That is 10 Black Rhinos being massacred on top of the poaching crisis , from a population of almost extinct  species .  


This is criminal , the WWF advise the Namibian Government to do this , and then ask for global funds to save the same dwindling populations .  WWF advise and give information to CITIES ,  USFWS and the EU.  


WWF is accountable to no one and if anyone observing this is the countries contradicts WWF they are shot down in flames .  

SusanRussell
SusanRussell

Several studies, see the one on black bears, below, confirm that tourism is more profitable than hunting.   In other words, the animals are more" "valuable" on the hoof.   As proved with the ivory trade, "counterintuitive" claims that selling ivory  is somehow essential for conservation are hollow.( http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/01/08/bc-bear-hunting-study_n_4561280.html ) Whilst legal "culls" provide ivory, illegal ivory purveyed by traffickers enters the trade.

The only message gratuitous killing sends is that endangered rhinos are more valuable dead than alive.  If the shooter cares that much about "conservation," and will gladly spend over $300,000 to kill an endangered species (for "conservation," naturally)why not let the old rhino live out his years and simply send the check?  "Lawful hunting"  is Safari Club International's lingo and  self-serving rationale.  What, the heck, is TIME endorsing here?

TIME's support for  killing an old, male rhino  for cash (Step right up!  An endangered species!) raises new questions about the magazine's turn toward sport  shooting industry talking points.   "America's Pest Problem," a recent cover opinion piece by David Von Drehle, was a love letter to the shooting sports industry, and directly contradicted a September 20, 2013 peer-reviewed piece in Science Magazine that cited a growing number of wildlife researchers' findings in the polar opposite direction:  for bears, mountain lions, and wolves,  hunting is not only ineffective in reducing  human-wildlife conflicts or encounters, but creates new problems.   Human-cougar conflicts in California, a state that does not allow cougar or mountain lion hunting, are far fewer than in states that allow it.   Read the Science report,  then read the Von Drehle/TIME ode to killing.   Even bald eagles are "pests."  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife  Service is formally partnered with, among others, Safari Club International, the Archery Trade Association, ATK Ammunition Systems.   Interior's  cozy relationships  with trades it is supposed to regulate, borders, said the New York Times, on corruption.   Does TIME research its sources?  Their connections and partnerships?  Why, of late, so many pro-killing, anti-wildlife views?

An "old, male" rhino is utilitarian- speak for biologically useless.   Has this animal's life really become expendable?  There is beauty in the fact that rhinos,  driven to the brink of extinction by the very mind-set promoted here today, are allowed to reach old age. That one would have lived out his natural life without knowing the violence visited on the species is still too much to ask.  What is craven reasserts/  In 2014, the worth of the life, not the death, still eludes.

Ken/A-TeamForWildlife.org
Ken/A-TeamForWildlife.org

The one great failure of all the "hunters" points of view is pretending that killing this rhino is the best and only solution.  IF killing this older male enhances rhino population growth while it raises money for conservation (which is highly doubtful), then the rhino should be eliminated in a more productive and humane way - simply relocate him to a place where ecotourism can benefit.  Let tourists see this impressive old male away from breeding herds. The old rhino lives, the country benefits from ecotourism dollars, the breeding herds have more success breeding - everybody wins! Except trophy hunters.  Oh wait, mustn't we allow trophy hunters to go out and kill the largest, most beautiful animals they can find?

thewordiz
thewordiz

Conservation via hunting COULD work. Let me explain what would bring the most money and satisfy all sides of this issue.  A license to hunt is raffled off starting bid $1 Million dollars for that you get:


1) Said license to hunt with impunity, the poachers. Kill as many of them as you can. This license lasts "until" you get at least 1 kill, and once the killing starts (first poacher has been hit) you can continue to hunt & kill for 72 hours or until the entire poacher group is killed.

2) You get the immense satisfaction of hunting something that could actually shoot back (what a sporting event!)


3) Money raised for the hunt goes to the conservation of said environment.


The wildlife get spared and maintained, population gets thinned out. Jobs  (guides) are made available for the area.


Win, Win, Win.


This is how BIG game hunting is justified. Any jack-ass can shoot from a Landrover with a high-powered rifle and special ranging and spotting optics at an animal that is as big as a VW like (Rhino, Elephant, Giraffe)


This would be a guaranteed winner.

TheSuperAmanda
TheSuperAmanda

More canned hunting apologist piffle from an editor who appears to be well intentioned and committed but is woefully myopic.  For starters this article ignores the fact that hundreds of rare and rapidly vanishing animals are POACHED under the guise of TROPHY HUNTING each MONTH. Gordon Victor enterprises imported tonnes of ivory into the US under this guise and the lie of "aged ivory". Read more about this PLEASE Bryan. The Safari Club could care less. The amount they donate to anti poaching is nominal and simply part of their fantastical PR.  It can't cancel out the fact Trophy Hunting in the past 50 years, not poaching has wiped out large and rare cats and mammals. These hunters are deregulation/less government fanatics who want to kill whichever rare animal they choose, whenever they choose.  The Safari Cub even supports canned hunting of lions, rhinos and yes even Tigers imported onto Africa soil. No one can explain how farm raised rare animals, drugged and the blown away at point blank range is about conservation.  Frankly the auction convention site looked like nothing more than a vast taxidermy warehouse with hundreds of videos of rare cats and rhinos being killed, much less part of anything positive or sustainable. Every single person I saw there was White, there were zero Black Africans who , according to Trophy Hunters gain  "vast amounts of money, bush meat, water supplies, rainbows and tame unicorns" from the benevolent white Trophy Hunters of the world.  Are ANY safari operations owned and run by Back Africans? NO. If they exist they are not online as I found zero in a lengthy search. They are maids and trackers solely. Trophy hunting is a White man's word. I have yet to see a photo of any lasting benefit (or even a meal) that Trophy Hunters give to 'da po natives' leading me to believe it is more Great White Hunter PR spiel. This hunt of Ronnie the Rhinoceros is nothing more than a glorified canned hunt which sends a sickening, Satanic message to young children of today. The horror a young child must feel knowing the adults of the world are killing the largest and or most, critically endangered apex animals for "fun" is unimaginable. Cut through the hooey in this piece and you'll read "Christian male" bias that implores us with rank elitist sincerity to unequivocally   "trust the Great White Hunter to be honest and do his job" while he saves the rare animals HE KILLS from poachers!  Dream on. Trophy Hunters are empirically non trust worthy decent people, they kill for fun and exploit rarely enforced international laws ad corrupt governments like Zuma's South Africa. But their days are dwindling and within a few years rare exotic trophies will be banned for importation into the USA. President Obama has started cracking down on Craigslist including a man in Texas who was buying trophy hunted Rhino horns and selling them to Asians in the states.  And soon exotic canned hunting in the USA where rare cats are blown away after being drugged ,will be wiped out and the broken and tragic exotic pet trade will become a Federal offence not the states rights joke it currently. And the person  who does pull the trigger (word is that Corey Knowlton is allegedly nothing but a shill buyer)  will be hounded for life as will his descendants as the one who "killed one of the last Rhinos" in a gloried canned hunt. Rather a trashy way to be remembered.

syzygysb
syzygysb

I thought I posted this earlier, but ----whatever happened to the campaign to dye rhinos' horns bright pink, and infuse the dye with toxic chemicals?  The chemicals were some kind of parasiticide that would not harm the rhino, but would make persons who ingested powdered rhino horn immensely ill.  I thought that was a brilliant way to combat rhino poaching.  Perhaps the cost of capturing and sedating the rhinos was deemed too great?

committedconservationist
committedconservationist

Those who have so vehemently campaigned against this auction have succeeded only in reducing the amount of money going to Namibia wildlife conservation by a minimum of $650K. Buyers who had pledged to bid at $1 million plus were scared off by personal threats and website hacking. The Dallas auction did not change in any way the number of rhino bulls that will be trophy hunted, which is set under the Namibian programme - it was simply aimed at raising more money by exposing this auction to a North America/international audience. Otherwise the permit would have been auctioned in  Namibia, as those in recent years have been. So, all you who are against this, are you going to cough up to replace the hundreds of thousands of dollars lost?

IbegToDiffer
IbegToDiffer

Let me start by clearing up one assertion of your post.  My profession is trying to save the last of the rhino, black and white, from extinction.  I am not on a 15 minute coffee break here. We are in the process of getting our 501(c)3 designation as a nonprofit to fight rhino poaching on two fronts.  First, the anti poaching units and second the educators. 


The implications of this auction are much larger than whether then animal is still virile or not.  The largest of which is that this bolsters the myth that these animals are worth more being slaughtered than they are alive.  Whether the killer be a professional hunter that pays $350K up front or be it the one that sells the horn to an Asian buyer for $500K (Bloomberg article Jan 2,2014 http://buswk.co/1d1RbMm ) it is further drawing attention to the value of the horn.  

These horns are not even horns in the strictest sense of the word.  They are highly compacted hair and have no more medicinal value than your own hair or nails.  I cannot for the life of me see how they can cure anything from cancer to a hangover.  If keratin can do this, I will gladly donate my hair and nail clippings. 


However, by having this auction and bringing so much attention to their perceived value as a commodity we have just set the clock back years on trying to get these consumers of the horn to understand they have no value and these animals should not be slaughtered, which is the only way we are ever going to save them from extinction.


My org., as I mentioned earlier, has two sides.  The Anti poaching units go out into the bush and go face to face with the poachers if necessary, risking their lives to try to keep these animals alive.  They will need to do this long enough for the other side of the org, the educators to work.  The only way this slaughter is ever going to stop is when the consumers realize there is no value to the horn as a medicine or as a status symbol.  This auction just set us back a long way in that mission.  We just proved that a dead rhino is highly valuable and that the elite US citizens will pay a huge price for black rhino horn.   After all, the only thing the hunter will bring away from this is the trophy head with the horn stuffed and mounted for $350K.  That is the true damage done here.  Not the quiet culling of the elder males,with which I disagree with also.  

HateToSayItbut
HateToSayItbut

I hate to say it but... The people who have devoted their lives to managing this population have said it is a good thing to do. The people who have devoted their 15 minute coffee break to ranting on comment sections are bitching about it. Who do you really think is more likely to be right?

kirkesque
kirkesque

"...the FWS notes that selling such a memento would be a violation of the Endangered Species Act or the Lacey Act, both of which carry penalties of prison time and large fines."

Perhaps in the DreamWorld (TM) where criminals are actually punished for their crimes, poachers would be jailed. The sick sad truth is that the US has rarely prosecuted a poacher, and when they have, another judge comes along to overturn the sentence. Fining a poacher is just as rare and less effective. If I am making $500,000 on illegal trade, get caught, and fined $5,000 as a punishment, it's merely a small tax on a large profit.

The government, and its ineffectual, rationalizing supporters, need to stop deluding themselves that the threat of non-punishment is not a deterrent, and sanctioning a hunt of endangered species *is* supporting the illegal trade via further commodification of the animals.

Thank you Time Magazine, for your support of Slaughtering Animals To Save Them Idiocy Campaign. Bryan Walsh's prize will be at the registration table at the next meeting.

syzygysb
syzygysb

I believe that any time you sanction killing any animal, no matter how you try to justify it, you are broadcasting the message that it is open season on that particular animal or group of animals. (Unless the killing is a necessary euthanizing of a dying or suffering animal.)  People who enjoy killing will grab onto whatever shred of "righteous" vindication they can lay hold of.  In other words:  you who condone the killing of rhinos, no matter what your rationale, are setting an extremely bad example.  You are giving permission to kill.  How can you kill, especially kill endangered animals,  and then say,  "Well.  WE kill, but YOU can kill only if the reason is this, this and this."  No, no, and no.


TheSuperAmanda
TheSuperAmanda

@committedconservationist Wow. even the canned hunter's sophistry is bad. That has to be the most fallacious logic I've ever heard. Trophy hunters are not trust worthy-that's EMPIRICISM not vehemence.

jhusler
jhusler

@HateToSayItbut as the gene pool is so dangerously low it probably would not benefit the species by removing a contributor to that pool. why not auction off a chance to hunt a big game hunter. That would be exciting and they can televise it and put it on pay for view. it would generate a lot more money and it is just as illegal. they can do it in Florida and use the stand your ground law as there legal defense.

HateToSayItbut
HateToSayItbut

@syzygysbWell at least you can admit that you are fanatical and over-the-top about your feelings in this matter. It is big of you to admit it.

serinanth
serinanth

@syzygysb I totally understand how you feel but we need to look at the facts.

The poachers don't care whether or not there is one endorsed killing, all they care about is their money and the fact that the crime of poaching has very little repercussion to them. Its not wealthy foreigners poaching the animals, its local gangs with criminal connections.

They will continue to slaughter the rhinos until there are none left. If one death of an elderly male that cannot reproduce can bring in the funds to the rangers to better protect the rhinos I am all for it. If that money could be used to educate people in China that rhino horn is not going to make you better in bed, or cure your grandmothers illness then I am all for it. Its going to take money, and unfortunately most people wont put their money where their mouth is and donate to help.

The only way its going to stop is that we need to remove the demand, but unfortunately for the rhinos, there are a lot of ignorant people out there =/

HateToSayItbut
HateToSayItbut

@jhuslerHeck! I would pay to watch that show!

Don't confuse logical thought with being a fanatical dumb-A55 my friend. My point is still valid and neither you or I am qualified to tell them they are wrong.

And as much as I hate to do the "point out how much you don't seem to get" game... Their contribution to the gene pool is over jhusler. If you would actually read the article you would be informed by it enough to know they only are allowed to shoot rhinos so old they no longer can father children. but it is ok, I will still love you.