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The Dallas Safari Club said Friday it aims to raise up to a million dollars for endangered black rhinoceroses by auctioning off a permit to kill one in Namibia. The move has raised the ire of wildlife preservation organizations, who question the move's ethics.
Ben Carter, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club, told Agence France Presse the Namibian government "selected" his hunting club to auction a black rhino hunting permit for use in one of its national parks. Namibia has an annual quota to kill up to five black rhinos out of the southern African nation's herd population of 1,795 animals.
"First and foremost, this is about saving the black rhino," Carter said.
The permit is expected "to sell for at least $250,000, possibly up to $1 million," and will be auctioned off at the Club’s annual convention from Jan. 9-12 next year. The Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia's Black Rhino will receive 100 percent of the sale price, the Club said.
In 2009, a similar permit fetched $175,000 for the Namibian Game Products Trust Fund, which pays for the species' conservation efforts, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
Black rhinos are internationally considered an endangered species. The World Wildlife Fund estimates only about 4,800 remain in Africa, where rhino horns are a coveted asset. Their value has spurred a lucrative black market in Asia, where some people believe they have special healing powers and the ability to cure cancer.
"Poachers come by helicopter and dart a rhino from the air with a powerful tranquilizer, a drug three thousand times more powerful than morphine,” he reported.
"As (a rhino) succumbs to deep sedation, they take a chainsaw to her face. The machine's sharp teeth tear into her skull, removing her nasal cavities, exposing parts of her brain," he said. "(The horn) will be sold to a middle man for a small fortune."
Bringing back the carcass
Tim Van Norman, chief of the branch of permits at the FWS, said the U.S. government has not yet issued any permit to the Dallas Safari Club to return a rhino's carcass to the United States, the possibility of which would be subject to a number of conditions.
The auction's winner would have to pass background checks, he said, and hire a guide to lead a hunt accompanied by Namibian wildlife officials. The animal chosen for the hunt would also have to be approved as beneficial to the species' conservation for the government to allow the trophy inside U.S. borders.
Van Norman added that Namibia has determined certain black rhino males, older ones that have already produced offspring and are in reproductive decline, are the best targets for hunting.
"Black rhinos are very territorial so you will have an older male that is keeping younger males from reproducing," he said. "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."
Carter offered a different explanation.
"Black rhinos tend to have a fairly high mortality rate," Carter told the Dallas Observer. "Generally speaking, out of a population of 2,000, harvesting three rhinos over a couple or three years has no impact on the health of the rhino herd at all."
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) described the news of the auction as "disturbing" and vowed to campaign against the issuance of a U.S. permit to return the trophy.
"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 HSUS.
"The last thing they need are wealthy elites from foreign lands coming in to kill them for their heads."
He also questioned the ethics of wealthy, competitive trophy hunters who say they want to kill an animal in the name of conservation.
"Shooting a black rhino in the wild is about as difficult as shooting a parked car," he said. "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," he said.