A Texas hunting club aims to raise money to save endangered black rhinos, in quite unusual fashion. The organization aims to hold an auction, offering hunters the potential to pursue one of these creatures across the Namibian terrain and kill it.
The rhino-hunting permit will be auctioned by the Dallas Safari Club (DSC). 100 percent of the proceeds will be given to the Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia’s Black Rhino, which will reportedly contribute towards rhinoceros conservation efforts in the region. The organization was picked by the Namibian government, and is slated to sell the permit during its 2014 convention, which spans a four day period, beginning Jan. 9.
Based upon similar auctions in the past, the permit is expected to fetch an astronomical sum of money. Estimates suggest that the event could raise between $250,000 and $1 million.
A similar permit was issued to a hunter from the United States back in 2009, which went for a handsome $175,000. On this occasion, the earnings were turned over to the Namibian Game Products Trust Fund (GPTF); this organization was established to guarantee that revenue obtained from the sale of wildlife products was exclusively used for the purposes of wildlife conservation and community conservation and development programs.
Executive Director of the Dallas Safari Club Ben Carter, explained that the event was primarily aimed at saving the black rhino, and had this to say during a recent press statement:
“… it’s going to generate a sum of money large enough to be enormously meaningful in Namibia’s fight to ensure the future of its black rhino populations.”
It is hoped the funding can be channeled into anti-poaching initiatives, as well as maintaining the black rhino population within the Mangetti National Park, the location where the hunt is destined to take place.
Selective Harvest of the Back Rhino
At first glance, the auction may appear somewhat counterintuitive. However, selectively culling particular black rhinoceroses has remained a viable conservation strategy, designed to protect the species, for quite some time.
Black rhinos are extremely violent, highly territorial creatures and are often seen fighting to the death. The species has the highest combat-related mortality rates of any other mammal. Around 50 percent of all male bulls, and 30 percent of females, die from wounds inflicted during intense fights.
The rhinos have a particularly intriguing social system. The dominant male covers exclusive territory, permitting only a few subordinate males to coexist within the same region. Dominant bulls that dwell in neighboring territories, out of respect, do not breach set territory boundaries. The borders of such territories are marked by the dominant bulls, who defecate and urinate along their perimeters to stave off unwanted competition.
Alas, this social system can prove problematic. Some black rhinos that start to show their age, and are in the process of experiencing a reproductive decline, often ward off younger males. This, in turn, is thought to have an adverse impact upon the black rhino population. According to AFP, Timothy J. Van Norman, chief of the Branch of Permits at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, offered his insight into these selective harvesting tactics:
“By removing these older males from the population, you get an increase in the production of calves. Younger males are able to impregnate the females that are in that area so you get more offspring than from some of these older males.”
On this basis, Van Norman recommends these population-limiting animals as the most suitable hunting targets. The DSC’s Ben Carter offered a very similar assessment of the situation:
“There is a biological reason for this hunt, and it’s based on a fundamental premise of modern wildlife management: populations matter; individuals don’t. By removing counterproductive individuals from a herd, rhino populations can actually grow.”
Black Rhinos on the Brink of Extinction
The black rhinoceros species has been labeled as critically endangered, and now appears in the Red Data List, as devised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature; this defines the black rhino as a critically endangered species that remains at high risk of extinction in the wild.
Indiscriminate poaching is known to seriously hinder the population of black rhinoceroses, a subversive practice that has contributed significantly towards the species’ plight. The rhino horn is highly desirable, and has a high black-market value. The horns are illegally distributed for a variety of superstitious purposes, with many herbalists believing the horns to offer a number of medicinal benefits.
At the beginning of this year, three people were recently arrested in the United States after conspiring to smuggle black rhino horns and carvings into China. One of the accused, Mr. Zhifei Li (aged 28) is believed to have attempted to procure two of the horns for $59,000, in a Miami hotel room, from undercover wildlife officials.
Civil wars of Rwanda, Mozambique and Somalia, to name a select few, have also taken their toll. The lawlessness and political instability of these war-torn countries has allowed poachers to continue tracking down black rhinos, entirely unabated. Poverty and unemployment exacerbates this issue, since rhino horns represent an attractive source of income.
According to Save The Rhino, habitat losses are equally devastating. Clearance of land for human settlement and agricultural production has contributed towards the spiraling rhino numbers, which has been accelerated by deforestation practices.
Surprisingly, elephant populations are also suspected to have some influence on the black rhino population, who often get first dibs on various floral sources. Research studies indicate that the absence of African elephants (Loxodonta africana), resulting in less competition for food sources, allows the black rhino to eat more heartily, who can then go on to snaffle up shrubs, plants and liana vines.
The World Wildlife Fund, meanwhile, launched the African Rhino Program in 1997, which aims to provide technical and financial aid to 12 rhino conservation projects, scattered throughout Africa. In a mission statement, they described their ambitious plans:
“We work with governments, local communities and other NGOs to improve the conservation and management of rhinos by restoring and connecting suitable areas of habitat, improving biological monitoring, sharing expertise, building the skills and capacity of people working with rhinos.”
Hunting Permits a “Disturbing” Sign?
Limited hunting schemes are supported by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, as well as U.S. wildlife officials.
In stark contrast, The Human Society of the United States (HSUS) expressed their discontent with the proposed auction, describing it as “disturbing.” According to AFP, HSUS President Wayne Pacelle called into question the moral compass of those who would want to participate in such an auction:
“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.”
Meanwhile, the successful bidder will be subject to a series of background checks and will need to employ a guide to lead the hunt. In addition, they will be escorted by members of Namibian wildlife authorities, who will be responsible for overseeing the event.
By: James Fenner