At the Dallas Safari Club’s annual convention in January, a special auction was held to help bring the black rhino back from the brink of extinction. One of the most endangered species on the planet, the black rhino has dwindled from a population of around 70,000 during the 1960s to about 4,000 at present, worldwide. The DSC auction was expected to raise up to $1 million in much-needed support, to be donated to the Namibian government for conservation of the species.
Far from its intended goal, the auction closed with a winning bid of $350,000. Not peanuts, but the result could have been better. And it probably would have been, if not for the negative publicity brought to bear on the DSC because of the item being auctioned – a Namibian black rhino hunt.
It should come as no surprise that the animal rights crowd began making loud, protestor type noises as soon as they learned of the auction. The anti-hunters were incensed that DSC would propose killing a black rhino to save black rhinos. And on the surface, it does sound illogical. Of course, there’s a lot more to the story.
In Africa, as in every other country in the world, taking care of wildlife requires money. Habitat protection, disease control, and game law enforcement, among other wildlife needs, is not cheap. The more money a given government or non-governmental agency has to support the native game animals in an area, the more it can do for the critters. That money has to come from somewhere.
That money comes from hunters.
Animal rights organizations talk a good game, they wail loud and long about being nice to the animals, but in the end, the only group putting their cash with their conscience is hunters. Without the revenue hunting provides, far more animals would be on the verge of joining the Dodo. Altruism is fine and good in theory, but in practice people don’t actually turn loose of money to save a species they will never see in the wild. It just doesn’t happen.
So, from that standpoint, auctioning off one black rhino to save the rest seems a little more acceptable to the reasonable non-hunter. Unfortunately we aren’t dealing with reasonable non-hunters. Fortunately, there’s yet more to the story.
Namibia, the African country where the hunt is to take place, is home to about 1,800 of the world’s approximately 4,000 black rhinos. There are few enough of them that wildlife managers are able to keep tabs on them. The hunt auctioned off by DSC was not a pass to shoot just any black rhino that happened along. It was a permit to kill a particular older bull, named Ronnie, that is past breeding age, and has become aggressive toward the other animals.
That fact never came out in the October 30 story Dan Solomon wrote for Texas Monthly about the auction. Solomon blasted DSC, titling his piece ‘The Dallas Safari Club Is Trying To Preserve The Black Rhino By Killing A Black Rhino.’ Which is true, but it sounds bad when you say it like that. Which is what Solomon intended.
But Solomon’s sentiments, clearly evident in his prose, are representative of those of many who don’t know the whole story. On the surface it sounds, at best, counterproductive to kill an animal to save the species. Sometimes, however, that’s what is necessary.
Ronnie, the black rhino in question, has become a problem. The typical result of such a situation is to remove the animal from the herd, according to DSC spokesman and former president Steve Wagner. If the hunt had not been donated to DSC by the Namibian government, and auctioned off for the good of the group, wildlife managers would likely have had to kill the rhino, anyway. The Convention on International Trade gives Namibia five black rhino permits a year, for the purpose of weeding out those that contribute the least, and pose the worst threat, to the others.
When any African game animal is killed, none of the meat is wasted. It all goes to feed starving villagers in the area, and every part of the creature is used for whatever purposes apply. That will be the case with the black rhino, with the added benefit of $350,000 to help the rest of the species. The auction is a win-win.
Still, Hanns-Louis Lamprecht, a safari operator in Namibia, was disappointed in the amount of money raised. “It annoys me to tears,” Lamprecht told Dallas Morning News. “A million dollars would have lasted years, years in the conservation efforts. The fact is it could have been more.” Lamprecht referred to the anti-hunters who picketed the event, and were thought responsible for affecting the bidding.
If the antis had not gotten involved, Namibia might be taking a million bucks home to help the black rhinos, instead of only $350,000. Most of the animal rights activists probably mean well, but they generally end up doing more harm than good.
As Norman Maclean said in his book, “Young Men and Fire,” “It’s hard to imagine how the world has lasted this long with so much volunteer help.”