No hurdle to hunting – and hanging – endangered rhino
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Texas – Big game hunter Corey Knowlton’s long wait to kill an endangered black rhinoceros in Africa is finally over.
In a decision Thursday that’s certain to rile animal rights activists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the last hurdle in the way of Knowlton’s quest.
More than a year after the wealthy Texan submitted the winning $350,000 bid for a Namibian government permit at a Dallas auction to shoot the animal, the agency announced that it approved his application for a separate U.S. permit to import the animal’s carcass back home as a trophy.
As soon as Knowlton verifies that funds sitting in an escrow account have been wired to Namibia, a Fish and Wildlife official said, the permit is his.
The agency explained its controversial decision by saying hunting rhino bulls such as the one Namibia selected for Knowlton is a necessary evil to increase the population of a species in peril.
Older rhinoceros bulls are known to keep younger bulls from mating with cows in their groups even after the elder males can no longer reproduce. After studying Namibia’s conservation program, the agency deemed that culling certain bulls “will benefit ... the species,” according to a statement released as part of the announcement.
American hunters pay handsomely for a chance to track and kill big game throughout Africa, and the money is placed in a fund that helps impoverished nations such as Namibia afford efforts to protect the rhinoceros from a wave of poaching that has reduced the population to a critical low. The money also helps pay officials who manage wildlife reserves.
The service also approved a second trophy request from Michael Luzich, a Las Vegas investor and hunter who shot a rhinoceros last year after a purchasing a permit for $200,000 from Namibian officials. Luzich shot a rhino bull after paying for the privilege in 2013 and will receive a permit in 10 days, an agency official said.
“United States citizens make up a disproportionately large share of foreign hunters who book trophy hunts in Africa,” said Daniel Ashe, Fish and Wildlife’s director. “That gives us a powerful tool to support countries that are managing wildlife populations in a sustainable manner and incentivize others to strengthen their conservation and management programs.”
Not every nation gets the favorable nod extended to Namibia, Ashe said. As part of its announcement Thursday, Fish and Wildlife also said it would deny all requests to import the remains of elephants sport-hunted in Zimbabwe after 2013. The agency said it “is not assured that the benefits of sport hunting will be realized” in Zimbabwe because the information that country shares about the management of its herd is incomplete.
African elephant populations are carefully watched by U.S. and United Nations officials after being reduced by more than half in the past 30 years. The species is listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
But the black rhinoceros is in far more trouble; fewer than 5,000 African black rhinos remain in the wild. There were 70,000 at the start of the 1960s before a wave of hunting and poaching dramatically lowered their numbers.
An international crackdown stopped poaching for a while, but it resumed several years ago when black-market prices for rhino horn in China and Vietnam, where it is valued as ornaments and traditional medicine, reached $45,000 per pound.