The tension percolating around a controversial plan to auction a permit to kill an endangered black rhino in Africa upsurged yesterday when the Texas group behind the proposal said it had received threatening emails.
“We’ve had a number of death threats to our members,” said Ben Carter, the executive director of the Dallas Safari Club.
Authorities don’t know who sent the messages, but an FBI spokesperson would not rule out that they had originated with animal rights activists.
The permit, granted by the government of Namibia last fall, is set to be auctioned off on Saturday during the club’s annual three-day convention in Dallas. One hundred percent of the proceeds will be donated to The Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia's Black Rhino. Furthermore, the winner will only be allowed to hunt a rhino that’s too old to breed.
Still, since the club announced its "kill one to save many" idea in October, animal rights advocates have fervently opposed it.
The authorized killing—“culling” in wildlife management parlance—of a herd is generally acceptable for a species with a healthy population, but not for one on the federal endangered species list, they argue.
"If these are multimillionaires and they want to help rhinos, they can give their money to help rhinos—they don't need to accompany their cash transfer with a high-caliber bullet,” Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said last fall.
Carter stands firm on the other side of the debate, reports NPR.
"It takes money for these animals to exist. A lot of people don't recognize that," says Carter. 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."
What’s not up for discussion is the perilous future awaiting these critically endangered rhinos.
Fewer than 5,000—including 1,800 in Namibia—remain in the wild, down from 70,000 forty years ago when poachers first began their murderous spree. Rhino horn is used in carvings and for (debunked) medicinal purposes, mostly in Asia.
“This auction is telling the world that an American will pay anything to kill their species,” said Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “This is, in fact, making a spectacle of killing an endangered species.”
But it will also presumably make a lot of money, with Dallas Safari Club predicting the permit could garner north of $1 million. Even if that lofty price isn’t fetched, the group said it hoped to at least surpass $233,000, the previous high bid for a Namibian rhino-hunting permit.