Is It Ethical…?

… to hunt a rare and endangered species even if you pay a large sum earmarked to help that species?

Dallas-based hunter Corey Knowlton and his family have been targeted for reprisals when the world learned that he paid $350,000 to the Namibian government to hunt and kill a rhino, an animal that’s been designated by the government and conservation groups as old, no longer capable of breeding and considered to be a threat to other rhinos.

“If I sound emotional, it’s because I have people threatening my kids,” Knowlton told CNN’s Piers Morgan last Thursday. “It’s because I have people threatening to kill me right now [that] I’m having to talk to the FBI and have private security to keep my children from being skinned alive and shot at.”

“You are a BARBARIAN,” read one threat. “I find you and I will KILL you.” read another.

Defending his position on CNN, Knowlton pointed out the serious threat older males present. “One of the other ear-tagged killer rhinos is going to injure [younger rhinos]. And then either lions or hyenas are going to drag it down. It’s going to die [in] a horrible manner, slowly.”

So, why doesn’t Knowlton just donate the money to help conservation efforts?

“I’m a hunter,” Knowlton said. “I want to experience a black rhino. I want to be there and be a part of it. I believe in the cycle of life. I don’t believe that meat, you know, comes from the grocery store. I believe that animal died and I respect it.”

Knowlton says his practical preservation approach is supported by groups such as The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Save the Rhino.

The union said that “well-managed recreational hunting and trophy hunting” have had a positive impact in “stimulating population increases for rhino.”

Richard Conniff, contributing writer at Yale University and National Geographic magazine, made several clear and compelling points in support of Knowlton in a New York Times editorial (Jan. 20).

“…auctioning the right to kill a black rhino in Namibia is an entirely sound idea, good for conservation and good for rhinos in particular.

“Here’s why: Namibia is just about the only place on earth to have gotten conservation right for rhinos and, incidentally, a lot of other wildlife. Over the past 20 years, it has methodically repopulated one area after another as its rhino population has steadily increased. As a result, it is now home to 1,750 of the roughly 5,000 black rhinos surviving in the wild. (The worldwide population of Africa’s two rhino species, black and the more numerous white, plus three species in Asia, is about 28,000.) In neighboring South Africa, government officials stood by haplessly as poachers slaughtered almost a thousand rhinos last year alone. Namibia lost just two. …

“The theory behind the conservancy idea,” Conniff says, “was that tolerance for wildlife would increase and poaching would dwindle, because community ownership made the illegal killing feel like stealing from the neighbors. And it has worked. Community conservancies now control almost 20 percent of Namibia — 44 percent of the country enjoys some form of conservation protection — and wildlife numbers have soared.

“The mountain zebra population, for instance, has increased to 27,000 from 1,000 in 1982. Elephants, gunned down elsewhere for their ivory, have gone to 20,000, up from 15,000 in 1995. Lions, on the brink of extinction from Senegal to Kenya, are increasing in Namibia.

“Under an international agreement on trade in endangered species,” Conniff concludes, “Namibia can sell hunting rights for as many as five black rhinos per year, though it generally stops at three. The entire trophy fee, in this case $350,000, goes into a trust fund that supports rhino conservation efforts. The fund pays, for instance, to capture rhinos and implant transmitters in their horns, as an anti-poaching measure. Trophy hunting one rhino may thus save many others from being butchered.”

The more facts we learn, the more the case favors individuals like Knowlton. As Conniff writes, “For people outraged by this hunt, here’s a better way to deal with it: Go to Namibia. Visit the conservancies, spend your money and have one of the great wildlife experiences of your life. You will see that this country is doing grand, ambitious things for conservation.”

This is one instance where I believe the ethical choice is with the hunter.

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