A controversial auction for a hunting permit in Africa concluded this past weekend in Texas.
On Saturday evening the Dallas Safari Club (DSC) awarded the permit—which allows a hunter to kill one black rhinoceros, an endangered species, in Namibia—to the auction's anonymous winner for a reported $350,000. The club had said it hoped to raise between $250,000 and $1 million.
Soon after the auction, the winner was reportedly identified by a fellow hunter.
"Well, I was willing to go $340,000 for the black rhino, but Corey Knowlton went $350,000 and won the bid!" hunter Wes Mundy posted on the Facebook page for San Antonio-based Double Diamond Outfitters. "Plus there was another $100,000 donation!! DSC and their supporters came through in a huge way for conservation again tonight!!"
A minister from Namibia was reportedly "jumping up and down in elation at the result because the funds go to conservation efforts in the country." (Read more about the controversy surrounding the hunt.)
Guns for Conservation?
The DSC says all proceeds from the auctioned permit—one of five Namibia will allow this year—will go to support the Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia's Black Rhino.
The DSC has not returned a request for comment. The group had previously argued that the hunt will help wildlife officials manage the endangered animals and bring in much-needed funds for conservation efforts.
The auction took place during the club's 2014 meeting at the Dallas Convention Center, where security was on high alert after the DSC told the FBI that it had received "death threats" from animal activists over the auction.
One of the email threats said, "For every rhino you kill, we will kill a member of the club."
The permit was the first of its kind to be sold outside Namibia, though Americans have participated in legal rhino hunts there after obtaining permits through local brokers.
According to media reports, Knowlton is an active hunter who arranges hunts around the world. He is a consultant with the Hunting Consortium and has been linked to the company Sonoran Ultimate Hunting in Prescott Valley, Arizona, which arranges deer hunting trips in Mexico. The website coreyknowlton.com redirects viewers to the company's website, sonoranultimatehunting.net.
The nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund condemned the auction, saying it "could set a dangerous precedent for similar hunting clubs seeking to profit from selling rare permits to kill endangered animals."
The group's executive director, Stephen Wells, said, "The Dallas Safari Club should respect the intent of international regulations that attempt to conserve and protect endangered animals who should be preserved in the wild, not stuffed by a taxidermist for a Texan's trophy room."
The "hacktivist" group Anonymous is reportedly targeting hunters involved with the auction through its OpFunKill effort on animal welfare. The group claims it has disrupted Internet service on the websites Nambia.com, dallasconventioncenter.com, and dallasonlineauctioncompany.com.
In a manifesto, the group wrote: "Unspeakable and terrible things happen every second of every day while the whole planet is forced to watch, as these cold hearted soulless zombies cause horrific suffering and death to animals, both common, vulnerable and critically endangered species."
Last week Jeff Flocken, the North American regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, wrote in a NationalGeographic.com blog post 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 left in Namibia, out of a worldwide population of 5,055. The total figure represents a decline of about 96 percent over the past century, driven largely by habitat loss, poaching, and, in recent years, a market for the animals' horns in Asia.