Killing for Conservation? Outrage After Auction Winner Fells Endangered Black Rhinoceros

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Killing for Conservation? Outrage After Auction Winner Fells Endangered Black Rhinoceros

'What kind of precedent does this set?' asks wildlife conservationist

Hunter Corey Knowlton in the thick, thorny brush of Namibia. (Photo: CNN)

Hunter Corey Knowlton in the thick, thorny brush of Namibia. (Photo: CNN)

A Texas man who won a controversial $350,000 auction last year for a permit to kill a black rhinoceros on Monday felled one of the endangered giants in Namibia, prompting immediate condemnation from conservation groups and experts who say the slaughter sets a dangerous precedent.

The kill by 36-year-old Corey Knowlten, who hails from Dallas, was captured on video by a CNN team that accompanied him (warning: footage may be disturbing).

Knowlten and the Dallas Safari Club, which sponsored the auction in January 2014, have sought to spin the hunt as in-line with conservation efforts, as the money raised by the bid will allegedly go towards conservation and anti-poaching efforts. "I believe hunting through sustainable use is an awesome tool in conservation that can keep these animals going forever as a species," Knowlten said earlier this year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, furthermore, claimed in March that "black rhino hunts associated with the imports of two sport-hunted trophies are consistent with the conservation strategy of Namibia."

But numerous conservation groups and experts strongly disagree with the auction.

"I am deeply saddened, disappointed and incredulous that [Knowlten] sees this mission as contributing to the survival of endangered black rhinos," said Jeff Flocken, regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare - North America, in a press statement released Wednesday. "[P]aying money to kill one of the last iconic animals on earth does not make you a conservationist."

Ronald Orenstein, Ph.D., wildlife conservationist, and author of the book Ivory, Horn and Blood: Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis told Common Dreams that the rhinoceroses are endangered primarily by commercial illegal trade in horns, not trophy hunting. However, he warned, the Dallas Safari Club auction "sends the wrong message."

"One of the big problems with the current situation is that rhinoceroses have become seen as commodities, as a prestige item," said Orenstein. "The idea that it is alright to shoot a rhino for huge price sends the wrong sort of message about why and how we want to conserve these animals. If the money was the issue, and they wanted to raise money for conservation, there are other ways to do it."

"It commodifies the animal," Orenstein added. "What kind of precedent does this set?"

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