Killing Endangered Black Rhinos Is NOT How You Save Them

One of history’s least logical events will take place in January: The Dallas Safari Club, based in Dallas, Texas, will auction off a permit to kill one of Namibia’s endangered black rhinos…in order to raise money for Namibia’s Black Rhino Conservation Fund. What the heck?!

If you’re shaking your head, Ryan Hayes is with you. The Massachusetts tax analyst was so upset that he decided to start his very first MoveOn petition. “I don’t oppose hunting on all grounds — I’m actually a bit of an outdoorsman — but on this one, I very much do,” he told MoveOn recently. “I felt it was wrong that one of the remaining 5,000 black rhinos on the planet was going to be auctioned off when the only real threat to the species is people shooting them.”

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Humans are the primary reason 95% of black rhinos have disappeared over the past 50 years, Hayes says. Typically endangered animals face a variety of different threats — various predators, loss of habitat, and so forth. And yet, for the first time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has OK’d the one behavior that’s driving the black rhino to extinction.

What possible logic could be behind the auction? “Poaching is destroying the species, so in order to fight poaching, Namibia is sometimes willing to sell a hunting permit to give to anti-poaching efforts, as backwards as that sounds,” Hayes answers. Poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which sell for up to $60,000 a pound due to believed health benefits, Hayes says. “If U.S. Fish and Wildlife wants to save the species, it should…just give money to anti-poaching efforts and not kill a rhino in the process.”

To make things worse, there’s no sport involved. “That doesn’t exist when you hunt a black rhino,” Hayes says. “Black rhinos are blind, for all intents and purposes, and they’re the size of pickup trucks. You need Namibian wildlife officials with you, [and you] drive up within like 30 feet of it. The animal can’t see you, and you just shoot it.”

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I ask why someone can’t just take a picture instead. “As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what the Dallas Safari Club is saying,” Hayes says. “Their response to the environmental community has been, ‘If you want to come and just buy the permit, then you can go over to Namibia and take a picture.’” Unfortunately, most environmental groups don’t have an extra million bucks lying around.

Those arguing for the rhino auction say the permit will be for an elderly rhino that can’t reproduce and is a menace to its herd, according to National Geographic. “The International Rhino Fund and the International Fund For Animal Welfare have both said that that argument is drastically overstated,” Hayes replies. Plus, if the rhino really is preventing younger males from breeding with the females, it could be moved to a zoo or sanctuary, he says. “There are a thousand reasons to keep the animals alive and no good reason, as we see it, to shoot one.”

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Although the likelihood of Dallas Safari Club changing its tune is nil, Hayes and his friends are optimistic that U.S. Fish and Wildlife will see the light. “The law already prohibits killing a critically endangered animal and importing it into the United States,” he says. “All we have to do is to convince U.S. Fish and Wildlife to apply the law.”

Once you’ve signed his petition and contacted U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Hayes encourages others to start their own petitions for issues they’re concerned about. “I was shocked at how much I could do, since this is my first shot at trying to convince a large government agency to do something,” he says. “Ignore the voice in your head that says, ‘Oh, I’m just a guy sitting in a cubicle who doesn’t have any control over anything.’”

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