Expecting upward of a million dollars for a permit to hunt an endangered black rhino, the Dallas Safari club had to settle for $350,000 at its highly publicized closed-door auction Saturday night.
The unnamed winner will get the thrill of killing an older black rhino male past its mating prime, which is how the club justified selling the permit authorized last year by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The actual permit, the first to be sold outside of Nambia in Africa for "conservation" purposes, will be issued in the name of the winner, according to a statement by the USFWS.
According to the club’s spokesman Steve Wagner, the hunt will be part of a $28,000 safari hunting package auctioned every year at their national convention in Dallas.
Black rhinos are internationally recognized as endangered. Of the 4,000 remaining black rhinos from the 1960s population of 70,000, there are an estimated 1,800 in Namibia.
The club’s executive director, Ben Carter, defended the auction by saying the old male can no longer breed, therefore is no longer useful and removing it will help the population increase.
"Science shows that selective hunting helps rhino populations grow," the club said in a statement released after the US auction. "Removing old, post-breeding bulls, which are territorial, aggressive and often kill younger, breeding bulls, cows and even calves, increases survival and productivity in a herd."
Carter’s defense doesn’t hold up when applied to a critically endangered animal. Critics say the implied standard of killing members of a rare species because they are aged is ridiculous.
Carter claimed the money raised from the auction would go to help rhino conservation, but wildlife groups say it sends the wrong message and negatively offsets any good a donation might do to rhino protection.
"The world is seeing a concerted effort to preserve the very few black rhinos and other rhinos who are dodging poachers' bullets and habitat destruction," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.
Culling may be appropriate when animal populations are healthy, but all animals of endangered status should be protected, not arbitrarily targeted under selective and self-serving purposes.
"This auction is telling the world that an American will pay anything to kill their species," said Jeffrey Flocken, North American regional director of the Massachusetts-based International Fund for Animal Welfare. "This is, in fact, making a spectacle of killing an endangered species."
Poaching and habitat loss have already driven the western black rhino, a subspecies, to extinction, with the last reported siting in Cameroon in 2006.
News of the controversial auction by the Dallas Safari Club surfaced last year and it was met with protests, to the point of death threats toward the club and its members, which have been investigated by the FBI.
Death threats aren’t the right thing to do, critics say, but selling a permit to kill an endangered animal for the satisfaction of seeing its head mounted on the hunter’s wall, while claiming it’s for the good of the species is blatantly absurd and disingenuous.