The Dallas Safari Club auctioned off a permit to hunt the rare black rhinoceros in Namibia for $350,000, about $650,000 less than it expected to make.
Conservationists estimate there are only about 5,000 black rhinos left on the planet, 1,700 of which live in Namibia. It has been brought to the brink of extension because of its valuable horn.
Each year the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism offers three permits to hunt the rare beast. This is the first time it was offered outside of the African nation.
The Dallas Safari Club says it received death threats over the auction, but they stand by their actions.
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"This is the best way to have the biggest impact on increasing the black rhino population," executive director of the Dallas Safari Club Ben Carter told CNN.
Animal conservationists disagree with the move.
"They need to be protected, not sold to the highest bidder," said Jeffrey Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). "It also sends a dangerous message that these iconic and disappearing animals are worth more as dead trophies to be mounted and hung on a wall in a Texas mansion than living in the wild in Africa."
The club says the Ministry of Environment and Tourism will monitor the permit-holder’s hunting expedition closely, allowing only a handful of predetermined rhinos to be killed. They say the young rhinos will be protected.
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"To hunt a black rhino is not taken lightly by Namibia. ... Only old geriatric bulls, which are marginalized in the population and do not contribute to reproduction, are trophy hunted,” the Namibian government wrote the Dallas club.
"They've already picked out two or three black rhino males that are old, non-breeding males that are not contributing to the population anymore," Carter said. "We know it's the right way to do it. We're relying on science and biologists. This is the best way to support the population of black rhinos."
"It's a farce to say that this is being done for conservation," argued Flocken. "It's saying the rarity of this animal is worth more dead than alive."
Marcia Fargnoli, chief executive officer of the Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia, says the group is working with the government to try to end the issuing of permits. Because it is a poor African county, Fargnoli says, the government has trouble turning away a chance to raise a lot of money very quickly.
"I really believe every rhino counts," Fargnoli told CNN. "It really is a dilemma. ...But I really struggle to say I'm saving rhinos and then say that one can be hunted."