Do you support trophy hunting of rhinos?

Have your say in this month’s poll. 

BACKGROUND

  • Trophy hunting of white rhinos has been permitted in South Africa since 1968. It occurs mainly on private land, and there is no quota system. Since that date the number of white rhinos has risen from an estimated 1,800 to more than 20,000.
  • The hunting of black rhinos was allowed by CITES in 2004.
  • Under this agreement five rhinos can be killed each year in South Africa and Namibia.
  • Since the mid-1990s the number of black rhinos has roughly doubled to about 5,000, and this figure continues to rise.

In the Spring issue of BBC Wildlife James Fair reported on whether hunting could save the rhino. Read his article here: 

In 2010 Cathy Dean, the director of Save the Rhino International (SRI), received a letter saying, “I wish you would die so that someone who actually cares about rhino conservation could do your job.”

What had prompted this message was her organisation’s support for trophy hunting of both white and black rhinos. At the start of this year, SRI reiterated its stance on this issue when the news broke that an American hunter called Corey Knowlton had successfully bid $350,000 to stalk and kill a black rhino in Namibia.

Though there was a public outcry, what’s remarkable is that the vast majority of conservationists are united on the subject: even if they don’t like it (and many don’t), they agree that trophy hunting has helped save the rhino.

Mike Knight, chairman of the IUCN’s African Rhino Specialist Group, said in an open letter, “While it appears counterintuitive, the removal of the odd surplus male black rhino can actually enhance overall metapopulation growth rates and further genetic conservation.”

The arguments are complex, but essentially rhinos chosen for trophy hunting are usually old bulls that have fathered many offspring.

They can be aggressive, killing not just males but females and calves in fights, and removing them can allow other genes to come through. It can also free up scarce resources for females and boost reproductive success.

It is true that allowing rhinos to be killed seems like an outrage at a time when poaching is so rife. In 2013 alone more than 1,000 rhinos were illegally killed, and levels have soared by 7,200 per cent in less than a decade.

But consider this: in total, 6 black rhinos and some 70 white rhinos were permitted to be hunted and shot last year, a small fraction of the overall populations.

Not only that, but funds raised from selling the permits go back into rhino conservation. In 2013, for example, Namibia sold three permits – out of the maximum of five allowed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – for more than $600,000.

This sum goes into a pot: the Game Products Trust Fund. According to Namibia’s national rhino co-ordinator Pierre du Preez, this money is returned to private conservancies that would otherwise struggle to break even.

He cites the example of the Naye-Naye Conservancy, which in 2012 benefited to the tune of $100,000 thanks to trophy hunting. This money provides local communities with an incentive to protect rhinos.

Statistics support the argument that trophy hunting has saved rhinos. The countries in Africa that permit it – Namibia and South Africa – have the largest populations by far. South Africa, for example, has 93 per cent of the world’s white rhinos, while the two countries combined have 75 per cent of black ones.

But Dr Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife for the Humane Society International, says that the issue is more complex than the statistics suggest.

 ‘Taking out’ old males is messing with the gene pool, she told BBC Wildlife, and akin to domestication of a wild species, while there is also no guarantee that the money made from selling a hunting licence goes back into conservation. South Africa, she argues, is a case apart, because all of its wildlife is effectively ‘privatised’, unlike in other African countries.

Telecky has other concerns, too. “There is an ‘icky’ factor about trophy hunting,” she said. “Wealthy people appear to be able to do whatever they want, and now they’re going off and killing one of the most endangered animals on the planet. Where is this going to stop? If you take this argument to its extreme, what about an orangutan? What about a Siberian tiger?”

But for rhino conservationists, these are not pressing issues. “Some people do find it disgusting that we support regulated trophy hunting of rhinos,” said Cathy Dean. “But while animal-rights people want to save every animal, we want to save the species. We are confident in our position and will defend it over and over again.”

 

A
a
-
Yes
11% (35 votes)
No
89% (292 votes)
Total votes: 327
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