Threats from antihunters have now cost Namibia’s rhino conservation program hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In January, at a banquet at the Dallas Safari Club (DSC) convention, something historic and important happened in the annals of hunting as a conservation tool. A permit to hunt a black rhino was auctioned to the highest bidder, fetching a cool $350,000–100 percent of which went straight back into the rhino conservation program in the nation of Namibia, where the hunt will take place.
You probably heard about the controversy surrounding the auction. In the real world of scientific wildlife management, there actually wasn’t much controversy at all about the idea–every important international scientific wildlife organization, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), agreed that auctioning the permit was a sound idea for conservation and that the money it would raise would be of tremendous importance to Namibia’s rhino conservation program. The hunt would target a specific old male—one that was past its breeding prime and had become dangerous to the young rhinos in its herd—and the money raised from hunting this single, selected rhino would contribute to saving the overall black rhino population.
Namibia hoped that auctioning a permit in the USA would push the price of the permit (and the money going back to its conservation program) to extraordinarily high levels. Unfortunately, it also brought the antihunters out of the woodwork. No amount of explaining the science behind using carefully controlled hunting as a conservation tool could placate the screaming masses who poured their energies into thousands of virulent Internet posts. They were not attempting to raise money to help rhinos–far from it. They were only attempting to stop the hunt.
The online attacks escalated into death threats to DSC members and their families. Whoever purchased the auction tag, it was made clear, would be the target of threats not just to themselves, but to their families and businesses.
Understandably, many potential high-dollar bidders pulled out. You can’t blame them for not wanting to put their family members and employees at risk. And suddenly a tag that at one point might have sold for as much as a million dollars had almost no takers.
Fortunately, several brave and generous DSC supporters stepped into the breach, and the hunter who did purchase the tag (for what is still a record-setting amount), should be considered a conservation hero. One of the loudest detractors of the rhino hunt was Bob Barker, the anti-hunting former host of The Price is Right. Responding to him on CNN’s Piers Morgan Live a few nights after the auction, the hunter said he wanted to tell Bob that, with regard to the rhino permit, “the price was wrong.”
He was correct. This auction should have raised a lot more for conservation, and the only reason it didn’t is because of the shortsighted tactics of closed-minded people who don’t understand wildlife management.
There’s a silver lining, though. Hunting, conservation, and the relationship between them has been in the news for months as a result of the controversy. Many people who might not have previously understood this relationship do now. The haters aside, I believe that the majority of nonhunters out there are reasonable people who care about wildlife and can separate facts from emotion. Let’s make sure we keep reminding them how hunting benefits conservation–and let’s not wait until the next rhino auction to do it.