Black Rhino Sport-Hunting Permitted by US FWS

With the population of the critically endangered black rhino only around 5,000, why did the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service (US FWS) recently issue sport-hunting permits to kill two black rhinos in Namibia? The permits, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each, will allow two wealthy American sport hunters to import their black rhino trophies into the country after killing the critically endangered animals in Namibia.

Citing “clear conservation benefits,” the US FWS has provoked a storm of negative reaction with the issuance of the two controversial permits. Unhappy with the apparent hypocrisy of the US FWS claim, Jeff Flocken, North American regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) responded, “Killing animals is not conservation – pure and simple.” Flocken added, “To say otherwise is to distort the gruesome reality of the situation.”

black rhino in africa
Black Rhino in Africa from wikimedia commons

The Critically Endangered Black Rhino

Magnificent and beastly ugly all at once, the black rhino is a powerful and charismatic enigma. Will the powdered horn of the rhino make a man more strong, healthy, and virile? Ancient Asian medical tradition supports this claim and subsequently drives the highly profitable trade in illegal rhino horns. In the Middle East, dagger handles from rhino horns are also highly prized status symbols, adding to the demand which entices illegal animal poaching.

There are five surviving species of rhino still living in the wild today. All are listed in the IUCN Red List, ranging from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered, and all are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, of which the United States is a member, also guarantees protection of all rhinos.

Does the Good of the Many Override the Killing of Two?

Under the Endangered Species Act, the US FWS permits the import of sport-hunted black rhino trophies “only when hunting in the country of origin is well-regulated, sustainable and benefits conservation of the species in question.”

According to the US FWS, the black rhino hunts recently permitted will generate a combined total of $550,000 for wildlife conservation, anti-poaching efforts, and community development programs in Namibia. The Service also points out that Namibia is a country with a steadily increasing population of rhinos.

“United States citizens make up a disproportionately large share of foreign hunters who book trophy hunts in Africa,” said Service Director Dan Ashe.  “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.”

Contradicting the “Very Spirit of Animal Welfare”

IFAW North American Regional Director Flocken is not satisfied with this approach. “As U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service points out in their statement,” said Flocken, “Americans make up a disproportionately large share of foreign hunters who book trophy hunts in Africa.”

Flocken continued, “Extravagant trophy hunting of endangered species is the opposite of conservation and gives a bad name to the American people, most of whom find such blood sport antiquated and repulsive.  Needless to say, we are disappointed with the Service’s decision, which contradicts the very spirit of animal welfare.”

IFAW is an organization founded in 1969 for the protection of animals facing crises from all around the globe. Advocating for wildlife and habitat protection, IFAW has ongoing projects in over 40 countries, working to rescue and prevent cruelty to animals.

Rhino in Zimbabwe, from pixabay.

US FWS Offers Rebuttal to Critics

“The future of Africa’s wildlife is threatened by poaching and illegal wildlife trade,” stated US FWS Director Dan Ashe, “not responsible, scientifically managed sport hunting.” Service Director Ashe continued, “We remain committed to combating heinous wildlife crimes while supporting activities that empower and encourage local communities to be a part of the solution.”

Prior to permitting the import of the two black rhino trophies hunted in Namibia, the Service held a 30-day public comment period. The Service stated it received more than 15,000 individual comments, and over 135,000 petition signatures. According to the Service, it “reviewed each of those comments for scientific or technical information to inform its decision and carefully considered the concerns and perspectives of commenters.”

With an established record supporting its methods, the US FWS points out that North American trophy game hunting has led to the restoration of the white-tailed deer, elk, moose, and a number of other species. Recognized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, as well as other international wildlife management and conservation organizations, well-managed wildlife programs can be of significant long-term benefit. These programs include limited, sustainable sport hunting.

According to US FWS website statements, “By law, the Service cannot and will not allow trophies of certain protected species into the United States that were hunted in any nation whose conservation program fails to meet high standards for transparency, scientific management and effectiveness.”

Is the Black Rhino Program Working in Namibia?

Between 2001 and 2012, Namibia’s black rhino population has more than doubled. Concentrating on maximizing population growth rates, Namibia’s Black Rhinoceros Conservation Strategy has adopted biological management and range expansion strategies. The goal has been to increase Namibia’s black rhino population by a minimum of five percent each year.

Namibia’s management plan allows the harvest of five males from the black rhino population each year. This decision has been supported by the member countries of CITES. As the top five males are presumed to be already genetically dominant in the black rhino population, their removal each year is believed to allow younger, less dominant males the chance to mate, potentially leading to a quicker population increase. From my own experience as a sheep and goat breeder, allowing new blood into the gene-pool is also an effective strategy for improving the health of an animal population, as it helps prevent repetitive in-breeding.

Finally, as an integral part of Namibia’s successful conservation strategy, local communities receive direct economic benefits from the presence of the growing black rhino population, and thus help disincentivize poaching. That half million in US Dollars received for only two sport-hunting permits will clearly result in an economic advantage to Namibia, as it goes to funding wildlife conservation programs, anti-poaching efforts, and community development programs.

Putting Pressure on the Poaching Trade is Also Working

And, fortunately, poaching is beginning to decrease in many areas. Rhino poaching has dropped to zero over the last year in Chitwan, Nepal. In Assam, India, the population of rhinos has risen over the past decade. A 2014 Islamic fatwa issued in Indonesia specifically protects endangered wildlife, and an earlier fatwa specifically forbids the Muslim’s use of rhino horns for daggers.

Most recently, in early 2015 the China Buddhist Association issued a landmark declaration for Buddhists to “obey rules and laws on wildlife protection, to refrain from participating in any killing or trade of wildlife.” This welcome and timely edict requests Chinese Buddhists to “refuse to buy and use wildlife products such as ivory and rhino horns; to actively inform law-enforcement or conservation organizations on activities involving killing or trade of wildlife; to help save those wild animals captured illegally; to encourage those who are available to participate in animal conservation NGOs or support wildlife projects.”

With continued pressure like these excellent efforts, a strong damper on the illegal trade of poached animal parts is being made. The populations of endangered animals, including the critically endangered black rhino, are now standing a greater chance to rebuild their numbers, especially under the careful management and watchful eyes of international conservation programs.

He's on his own against the elephants! © Alistaire Rae, Flickr

7 thoughts on “Black Rhino Sport-Hunting Permitted by US FWS”

  1. The Survival Wire

    We members of the Safari Club International donate the money for establishing, training and equipping anti-poaching entities, for teaching scientific wildlife management practices, for restoring habitat and helping to reestablish healthy herds. When a license like this is granted/auctioned off for $50 or $100,000, it is typically granted for an old male which has already passed his genes along- many times. This harvest additionally helps integrate new genetic diversity into the herd by allowing other males to breed. We pay attention to this. We invest the funds raised in these activities and we have conserved hundreds of of thousands of acres of wildlands and helped to reestablish majestic herds in the US as well as in Africa, Latin America and Asia. We put our money where our mouth is.

  2. John William Salevurakis

    These hunts make absolutely perfect sense. Certainly, it might be perceived as ideal to have no hunting, enjoy a government or eco-tourism sector adequately funding habitat and species protection, and watch poaching fall to zero. To assume that such a world exists however (particularly outside of the first world), and base policy upon that assumption, sentences these animals to extinction. As it is, there are not enough people willing to pay a sufficient sum of money to take pictures of these (or other) animals and governments do not have adequate funds to set aside lands and protect them against poaching. This is the developing world we are talking about here! Given that, if hunting generates sufficient revenue to reduce the rate of poaching (as one is unlikely to completely eliminate it) below the rate of reproduction, then we have a job well done! Finally, I am surprised by all the environmentalists complaining about these hunts when, if they really REALLY cared, they were (and are) perfectly capable of bidding on rhino permits put up for sale. They could simply pay the money, refuse to hunt, and pay a premium to relocate the animal(s) from areas of high concentration to areas of low (if the current habitat is strained). Generally, this was all put forward by Coase decades ago. The only way to ensure an optimal allocation of rhino is to open them up for bid and let EVERYONE bid…..hunters, non-consumptive users, and even the Asian buyer who presently buys his horn from poaching syndicates. It is only then when the market price of rhino will reach the “natural” level with the monies going to governments and landowners in stead of poachers and middle-men. I am not a free market ideologue, but I believe that, in the developing world, even an imperfect market works better than poorly funded fortress conservation.

  3. Congratulations on a very thought-provoking article, Aisha. And Bravo! to the Chinese Buddhists and the Indonesian Muslims for leading the way and enjoining their people from killing these animals. I can understand (that’s not to say I agree with) the economic argument behind putting a few animals up as hunting trophies to raise funds for conservation that will save the species, but with so few of these fabulous creatures around it feels like a rash decision in this instance. I’ve never bred sheep, goats – or black rhinos – so my knowledge on the science of genetic selection is limited, but I’d have thought it was a questionable idea to take the alpha male with the very best genes in the herd completely out of the equation. And, finally, I have to say that I just can’t get my head around the mentality of the person who would want to pay a vast sum of money for the chance to kill one of these wonderful beasts. “Hey Honey, I shot one of the very last black rhinos on the planet today,” is a boast that would be greeted with a very stony silence around my dinner table.

    1. Bonny, please understand the facts before posting opinions about the program. The specific Black Rhinos that are the topic of this discussion have been selected by professional rhino biologists and vets in the management of the Namibia Rhino program. They have determined that there are specific old males that are no longer breeding and have become a detriment to the herd. Their genetics are already in the herd from years of prior breeding, however these old males don’t breed anymore, but stop viable younger males from breeding, by fighting and causing severe injuries. By removing these non-necessary non-breeding old males the management plan has successfully increased the breeding rate of the Black Rhino herds by allowing the viable males to breed. So this animal would have been taken out of this herd anyway. The program provides that these specific animals can be removed and sold to generate the funding to enhance the rhino populations through more trans-locations, more protection and community involvement and community benefit. So please understand it is a much bigger picture than just killing a male Black Rhino and is an integral part of a well managed program by Namibia.
      Please also give Namibia the credit it deserves in their Rhino management program as they have increased the population of their Black Rhino numbers for enough generations now to be considered from their current IUCN “vulnerable” status (not endangered as you say) to a lesser status of “near threatened” and eventually to “least concern” status.

  4. hunting is utterly cancerous, a habit of the insane to feebly attempt compensation on lack of self respect. When the animal in question is on the endangered list, it becomes critically important to protect the animal from these savages who have no regard other than blood lust and bragging. These animals are a vital link in the eco system, hunters are not required, not welcome and not valid in their crass claims to be conservationists. If they were in any way correct in their gross misconceptions, there would not be a critical list of near extinction animals now and we may not have lost so many animals from the kingdom, already! Quo Bono!

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