Big-game hunters in Texas bid for licence to kill one of Africa’s rare black rhinos

Claims by Dallas Safari Club that auction funds will be used to protect animals in Namibia are dismissed by furious activists, writes David Usborne

Big-game hunters from across America are winding up a four-day annual jamboree in Dallas where the highlight was an auction to raise money to save the black Rhino in Africa. The top lot: a permit to shoot one.

The Dallas Safari Club confirmed that when the gavel dropped at Saturday evening’s sale, the permit to hunt a single black rhino in Namibia had sold for $350, 000 (£212,000), a snip for the dubious privilege of being able legally to bag so rare a beast and then, presumably, to mount its head or other remains on your dining room wall. 

The club went ahead with the sale in spite of fierce criticism from animal welfare advocates which challenged the logic of purportedly working to save the black rhino from extinction by selling a hunter the chance to slaughter one. The sale was also met by a contingent of protesters outside the Dallas Convention Center.

Ben Carter, the executive director of the Dallas Safari Club, said before the sale: “This is the best way to have the biggest impact on increasing the black rhino population.” The permit came direct from the Namibian government, which makes three available each year for the precise purpose of raising money for its rhino conservation programme. It was the first time one had been made available for sale outside the country, however.

The world’s black rhino population now stands at a perilous 5,000, of which about 1,700 are in Namibia, down from 70,000 in the 1960s. Poaching has pushed them to the brink, because their horns fetch huge prices in parts of Asia, where the powdered horn is still believed to offer near-magical medicinal qualities.

According to the Dallas club, the permit will allow the hunter to shoot a specific ageing male rhino which is beyond breeding age and may, in fact, be a hazard to others in its herd. “To hunt a black rhino is not taken lightly by Namibia,” the country’s government states in a letter provided to the club. “Only old geriatric bulls, which are marginalised in the population and do not contribute to reproduction, are trophy hunted.”

Mr Carter said: “They’ve already picked out two or three black rhino males that are old, non-breeding males that are not contributing to the population any more. We know it’s the right way to do it. We’re relying on science and biologists. This is the best way to support the population of black rhinos.”

None of that will impress the conservation groups and other protesters who strove to have the auction called off ever since it was announced last October. An online petition had 60,000 signatories at the time of the auction.

“They need to be protected, not sold to the highest bidder,” said Jeffrey Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, adding that the auction sent “a message that these iconic and disappearing animals are worth more as dead trophies to be mounted and hung on a wall in a Texas mansion than living in the wild in Africa.”

The person who wrote the large cheque has not been named, and because bids were also taken by telephone it is not certain that the winner was among the roughly 30,000 hunting enthusiasts who attended the convention, or even from within the United States. While no one at the club was saying so, there may also have been a smidgen of disappointment too; there had been speculation the licence would fetch as much as $1m.

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