Real quick, try to imagine the least tasteful way to raise money to preserve the critically endangered black rhino, whose entire population hovers somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,500, and which still faces the severe threat of international poaching. 

If you came up with “raffle off a taxidermy rhinocerous” or maybe “sell limited edition signed photos of a blood-covered Ted Nugent proudly gloating over a dead rhino carcass,” you didn’t go far enough. Those things are actually tactful compared to what the Dallas Safari Club is doing: namely, auctioning off a permit to hunt and kill one of the remaining black rhinos, on behalf of the government of Namibia

It may seem counterintuitive to, you know, hunt and kill a member of the endangered species that you’re trying to preserve, but DSC executive director is prepared for that perspective, and he is unconvinced. As he wrote in a press release issued by the club: 

“First and foremost, this is about saving the black rhino,” said Ben Carter, DSC executive director. “There is a biological reason for this hunt, and it’s based on a fundamental premise of modern wildlife management: populations matter; individuals don’t. By removing counterproductive individuals from a herd, rhino populations can actually grow.”

If that comes off as a bit of “having your rhino-hunting cake and eating it with some rhino-conservation icing,” well, this list of facts from offers more justification for why limited hunting of the black rhino is actually not a bad way to sustain the viability of the species as a whole

While a site called “Ammoland” is going to have an agenda in these situations, the list is not unconvincing. The $250,000-$1,000,000 the Dallas Safari Club expects to raise from the sale of the permit will go a long way toward providing the government of Namibia, which is allowed five hunting permits for the black rhino a year by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, with resources to preserve the population. 

All of those arguments hold water, but there’s another argument worth making, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare made it, in a press release they sent out yesterday in response to the auction: 

“Killing one of the world’s most endangered animals in the name of conservation is perverse to say the least, and drumming up a bidding frenzy to get to the opportunity to shoot one of the last of a species is just irresponsible,” said Jeffrey Flocken, IFAW North American Regional Director. “We know from tigers and polar bears and other endangered animals that perceived scarcity drives up market pressures. This is just an attempt to manipulate a horrific situation where rhino poaching is out of control, and fuel excitement around being able to kill an animal whose future existence is already hanging in the balance.”

It’s a compelling point: While limited hunting of the black rhino might be a viable component of conservation strategies, fetishizing the right to hunt one by auctioning it off for a potential seven figures probably is not. Illegal poaching is actually a growing threat to a species that’s been hunted for its horn for centuries, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and setting a market value for the ability to go on a rhino hunt at up to a million bucks does seem like it could have unintended consequences. 

The Dallas Safari Club is acting within its rights, of course—and “irresponsible” may be too strong a word for the auction, given that limited hunting, carried out via strictly-controlled permits, is part of conservation strategy. So we’ll just go with “tacky.” 

(Image via Flickr)