Given the synthetic tabloid outrage about Prince William popping over to Spain for a bit of “hunting” before launching an anti-wildlife-crime campaign, let’s examine an even more contentious story — the trophy hunting of endangered black rhinos. That’s right, the black rhino, vastly less numerous than the white rhino, can, in certain circumstances, be legally hunted. You may recall that the media went into a feeding frenzy when it was announced that the Dallas Safari Club had auctioned a black rhino hunt. You may have been outraged yourself. But then, you may not know the full facts.

The purpose of the hunt

The black rhino hunt in question was auctioned for $350,000 in January. The animal came from a well-guarded and locally sustainable population, and the hunt was conducted under fair chase principles, with all necessary permits. It produced the largest single donation dedicated to black rhino conservation ever made to Namibia’s Wildlife Product Trust Fund.

Yet even more would have been raised to help black rhinos had it not been for the antics of animal rights activists. Furthermore, three black rhinos may now have to be killed to generate the same revenue for conservation that one beast might have produced at auction.

According to an American lawyer and big game hunter called John J. Jackson, who runs an outfit called World Conservation Force, the real story goes back more than a decade. That’s when the African Rhino Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) approached him about the possibility of generating conservation revenue for the black rhino from lawful hunting. Yes, the conservationists wanted the hunters to help raise funds through sustainable hunting. This isn’t that unusual: august wildlife bodies such as the WWF and Save the Rhino have been happy to accept money from legal big game hunting.

As for the IUCN, it is the leading international conservation body and highly respected. In 2004, its African Rhino Specialist Group supported a resolution that recommended that parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) permit a quota of 10 black rhino hunting trophies per year: five from the Republic of South Africa and another five from Namibia. All sorts of other regulatory red tape had to be cleared. The way was paved when a hunter was finally given a permit to import a legally hunted black rhino trophy into the United States in April 2013.

Following this precedent, the Dallas auction in January 2014 was slated to raise $1 million for the protection and conservation of the black rhino. The legally hunted animals would come from populations that had been carefully monitored and protected from poachers. And remember, this whole approach had been instigated by the expert rhino conservationists.

But then the antis got involved. They briefed an investigative reporter, who identified the importing hunter and his business and incited the public to make their displeasure known to him and his customers. Hate mail and death threats came piling in. In the ensuing mediastorm, at least one sponsor pulled out and many potential bidders withdrew their pledges.

The result was that the auction raised only a third of the expected revenue, meaning less money for official anti-poaching activities and the local communities that guard the black rhino. In order to make up the shortfall, more rhino may have to be auctioned.

In other words, the antis managed to curtail a source of money that was going to protect the black rhino, while getting a lot of publicity for their cause and, no doubt, facilitating a flow of moolah into their own coffers. And a compliant media, eager to stoke up the public, played along. Once again, we see a conflict between self-serving animal rights activism, irresponsible journalism and practical nature conservation.

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