Two Endangered Black Rhinos Just Became Hunting Trophies, Thanks to the U.S. Government

Conservationists slam the decision to allow big game hunters to bring back dead rhinos from a hunt in Namibia.

A black rhino with young offspring in Tanzania. (Photo: Frans Lanting/Getty Images)

Mar 26, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

The federal government on Thursday approved bringing two of the world’s remaining 5,000 black rhinoceroses to the United States—dead.

Big game hunter Corey Knowlton received permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to import as a trophy a critically endangered black rhino he plans to kill in Namibia. At an auction held last year by the Dallas Safari Club, Knowlton paid $350,000 for a permit issued by the Namibian government to hunt a black rhino. The agency did not identity the other permit holder.

What moved the FWS to encourage the killing of black rhinos? Money. The two hunting permits will generate a total of $550,000 for wildlife conservation and anti-poaching efforts in Namibia.

“United States citizens make up a disproportionately large share of foreign hunters who book trophy hunts in Africa,” FWS Director Dan Ashe said in a statement. “That gives us a powerful tool to support countries that are managing wildlife populations in a sustainable manner and incentivize others to strengthen their conservation and management programs.”

The agency said Namibia’s black rhino management plan—which has grown the population from 2,400 in 1995 to 4,880 by 2010—allows for the killing of five males a year. Big, old bulls like the one that has been selected for Knowlton to hunt keep younger, vibrant male rhinos from mating and growing the population, according to wildlife officials. (About 70,000 black rhinos roamed Namibia prior to 1960’s poaching boom.)

But the controversial decision has drawn the ire of conservationists, who argue that any culling of a species on the edge of extinction should be condemned.

“In this day and age, sport hunting of any critically endangered species—especially a species that is seeing massive rises in poaching incidents—cannot be supported,” said Kathleen Garrigan, a spokesperson for the African Wildlife Foundation.

More than 1,200 rhinos of other species were killed in South Africa alone last year, compared with 13 rhinos poached in 2007. Demand for traditional Asian medicine that uses rhino horns as an ingredient has spurred the slaughter.

Ashe was quick to condemn growing rhino poaching.

“The future of Africa’s wildlife is threatened by poaching and illegal wildlife trade, not responsible, scientifically managed sport hunting,” he said.

Still, that distinction might not be so obvious to Namibian citizens or buyers of rhino horn products.

“It is the worst sort of mixed message to give a green light to American trophy hunters to kill rhinos for their heads,” Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society, said in a statement. “When the global community is working so hard to stop people from killing rhinos for their horns, we are giving a stamp of approval to a special class of privileged elite to kill these majestic animals as a head-hunting exercise.”

Garrigan echoed the sentiment.

“I understand there’s a big difference between illegal trade and sport hunting, but this is a time for unity—not diluting the message of the threats facing rhinos,” he said.

The department is expecting to receive more requests to import rhino trophies. The agency can issue a total of 10 permits a year.

Organizers at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said Thursday that they would sue to stop the issuance of trophy permits.

“These permits are fundamentally inconsistent with the purpose of the Endangered Species Act, which is to conserve endangered species, not to authorize their slaughter,” Delcianna Winders, deputy general counsel for PETA, said in a statement.

In another decision on Thursday, the FWS determined that American big game hunters would not be allowed to import elephant trophies from Zimbabwe owing to the “inadequacy of information on Zimbabwe’s elephant management program.”