Precedent Setting

Update below.

At its 2014 convention, the Dallas Safari Club will be auctioning off the rare chance to kill an adult rhinoceros in Namibia and the even rarer chance to bring the trophy parts back home. The organizers say they can expect up to $750,000 dollars, and that every penny will go to the ‘Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia’’s Black Rhino’.

The hunt would be carried out with the permission of both the Namibian government and of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to import parts of the black rhino. These animal parts are otherwise highly controlled and illegal, as there are only an estimated 5000 black rhinos left in the world and they are both protected under the Endangered Species Act, and heavily poached for their horns.

The DSC 2014 convention banner

The DSC 2014 convention banner

This notion of high profile hunting as a means of conservation is nothing new, and hunters have often been aligned with conservationists when it comes to protecting land and species.

However, not one article I have read on this has mentioned the background to the strange approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Earlier this year, the USFWS set a precedent by issuing a permit allowing the import of a black rhino trophy. The permit was the first USFWS permit ever allowing parts of an endangered species hunted abroad to be brought into the United States.

It was approved  following an import application filed by the hunter himself, with the assistance of lawyer John J. Jackson III, who runs Conservation Force, a Louisiana-based conservation non-profit organization.

David K. Reinke poses with the black rhino he shot in 2009. The work of Conservation Force means he was able to bring the horn back to the U.S. Photo: Thormählen & Cochran Safaris

David K. Reinke poses with the black rhino he shot in 2009.
The advocacy work of Conservation Force helped him bring the horn back to the U.S.
Photo: Thormählen & Cochran Safaris

For insight into the Conservation Force strategy, reading the group’s Updates and Alerts page is enlightening.

Most entries deal with overturning the endangered status of various listed species (lions, polar bears, etc.); legal attempts to reduce or eliminate restrictions on the importation of restricted animal parts; and finally, an update on the Dallas Safari Club’s award to John and Chrissie Jackson of Conservation Force for their “tireless advocacy of hunting as an integral part of wildlife conservation.”

Through a variety of strategies including tourism and rural development, Namibia has been very successful – far more so than its neighbor South Africa – in preventing poaching and promoting the recovery of the black rhino population without the assistance and funds of high end foreign hunters. So I am not sure what kind of value this new trend (if two cases can be called a trend) is supposed to add to conservation.


Credit: Planet Save

Credit: Planet Save

I am not fully versed in the value of hunting individual animals from a small genetic pool of an endangered species like the black rhino (Diceros bicornis); perhaps it’s a useful method.

I also don’t know much about the ‘Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia’’s Black Rhino’, the fund to which the Dallas Safari Club intends to donate the auction amount from the black rhino hunt – I was unable to find any listings online which mentioned this trust fund, but for all I know it could be part of one of Namibia’s many long-standing legitimate conservation groups.

I can’t claim agreement with the argument that promoting the hunting of endangered species, putting a high monetary value the hunt and on the very parts for which these animals are being poached into extinction, is a viable path towards saving these animals – not only for our future generations, but for theirs.

What I do know is that the Conservation Force’s determined efforts over many years to establish an endangered species import precedent succeeded this year with the USFWS permit.

I am also quite sure that this first trophy hunt auction, which would not have been possible without that precedent, will almost certainly not be the last of its kind.


UPDATE: 21 May 2015. The rhino auctioned for hunting was shot dead on 20 May 2015 by Corey Knowlton, the Texas hunter who won the auction bid.

From the AFP: Knowlton stated, “I think people have a problem just with the fact that I like to hunt… I want to see the black rhino as abundant as it can be. I believe in the survival of the species.”

Since 2012, Namibia has sold five licences each year to kill individual rhinos, saying the money is essential to fund conservation projects and anti-poaching protection. The only rhinos selected for the hunts are old ones that no longer breed and that pose a threat to younger rhinos.

Sorry, I just don’t agree. This is no different from countries selling off illegal rhino horn or elephant ivory seized from traders.

As long as the animals are worth more dead than they are alive, for any reason, poaching and the trade in illegal animal parts will be encouraged.


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