The Dallas Safari Club plans to auction a chance for one hunter to shoot an endangered black rhinoceros in Namibia. Animal advocates are expressing anger at the weekend auction, and a few have allegedly made death threats against the club.
The auction is being held during the safari club's 2014 convention at the Dallas Convention Center this week, and the winner will likely be announced on Saturday evening. (See also: "Animal Conservation.")
The club says 100 percent of auction proceeds, which could total an estimated $1 million, will go to support the Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia's Black Rhino. The Dallas Safari Club has previously argued that the hunt will help wildlife officials manage the endangered rhinos and will bring in much-needed funds for conservation efforts.
But not everyone is happy. On Thursday, the club says it contacted the FBI after receiving "death threats" from animal activists over the auction. Ben Carter, executive director of the club, told the media he has gotten at least a dozen emails threatening his family unless he calls off the auction.
Some of the emails said, "For every rhino you kill, we will kill a member of the club," Carter told NBC News.
The convention is expected to draw 45,000 people and is being held with heightened security. An FBI spokesperson confirmed that the agency is monitoring the situation.
Earlier this week, Jeff Flocken, the North America regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, wrote in a blog post on NationalGeographic.com that "the idea of creating a bidding war for the opportunity to gun down one of the last of a species ostensibly in the name of conservation is perverse and dangerous to buy into."
Flocken wrote, "If an animal like the rare black rhinoceros is worth the most with a price on its head, what possible incentive does this provide range countries and local people to move the species toward recovery when the biggest buck can be made short-term by selling permits to kill them to the highest bidders?"
He added that there are an estimated 1,800 black rhinos remaining in Namibia, out of a worldwide population of only 5,055. The total figure represents a decline of about 96 percent over the past century, driven largely by loss of habitat and poaching, and in recent years to support a market for the animals' horns in Asia.
According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Namibia is allowed to grant five hunting permits for black rhinos a year. Historically, most of those were sold locally, and this is the first time an auction for one has been held in the U.S.
Our Readers Respond
Our October 28 article on the controversy and science of the rhino hunt auction stirred up a strong response from our readers, who left 76 comments on the story.
Richard McCort wrote, "Even if it is taking out a nonproductive individual so therefore will have no impact on population dynamics, the fact is that it sends a message that it is ok to take another life for entertainment, and that certainly represents an abhorrent level of morality by mankind."
Alfred Korir wrote, "As a safari guide in Kenya, I would not like to take tourists out on safari who would be killing animals in the name of conservation."
But Hermann Meyeridricks criticized those who oppose the auction. "It exposes the elitist and preservationist mindset of people who do not live in Africa and do not understand the situation on the ground over here," he wrote. "Controlled, legal hunting does not pose any threat to Africa's wildlife--there is no scientific evidence to suggest this."
Criticizing animal advocate groups that oppose the auction, El Mecanico wrote, "Unfortunately all those people like PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] and HSUS [the Humane Society of the U.S.] don't have a clue of how nature works but they know how to exploit to their benefit the Bambi's mom death."
Learn more about rhino conservation in "Rhino Wars" in National Geographic magazine.