A hunter who won an auction for the rights to kill a black rhino is firing back at his critics.
Corey Knowlton was granted the opportunity to kill a rhino after bidding $350,000 at an auction held by the Dallas Safari Club in January 2014. Since then, he and the auction organizers have received a nearly endless flood of criticism and even death threats from animal activists.
But Knowlton is forging ahead with his hunting plans all the same, recently securing permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to import the animal after the hunt. Throughout the past year he’s remained silent, but in an interview with CNN, Knowlton is coming forward for the first time to face his detractors, and explain how the hunt can actually benefit rhino populations.
The Dallas Safari Club has promoted the hunt as benefiting conservation from the beginning. They note that the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism has granted up to three permits a year to hunt black rhinos, and all proceeds from Knowlson’s purchase will be given to the Namibian government for use in conservation and anti-poaching efforts. The animal targeted will be an aggressive and older non-breeding male, which the Namibian government has deemed poses a danger to young rhinos which can contribute to the gene pool.
According to Knowlton and a number of other pro-hunting groups, the animal is slated to be killed by the Namibian government either way, assuming poachers or predators don’t get to it first. But a permit that benefits the conservation of other rhinos ensures the animal’s death is not in vain.
That logic has failed to satisfy animal groups however, who insist the animal could be moved to another area and bring in money through ecotourism. Groups such as PETA International Fund for Animal Welfare are currently pursuing legal action against the USFWS.
“I believe hunting through sustainable use is an awesome tool in conservation that can keep these animals going forever as a species,” Knowlton said. “I look at it in a realistic way — that I understand that we can’t save one individual forever. Conservation and hunting can work 100 percent together and is one of the ways that can help these animals survive for your great grandkids, and it’s been done for a long time before so it has a great track record.”
The USFWS seems to agree with Knowlton, saying two permits it issued to import black rhinos, one to Knowlton and another to American hunter Michael Luzich, has clear benefits. In compliance with the Endangered Species Act, the USFWS determined that the hunt and the import of the species was more helpful than harmful.
“The hunts are consistent with the conservation strategy of Namibia, a country whose rhino population is steadily increasing, and will generate a combined total of $550,000 for wildlife conservation, anti-poaching efforts and community development programs in Namibia,” the agency stated.
The USFWS said the real threat to rhinos comes not from legal, scientifically managed hunting, but from illegal and uncontrolled poaching and wildlife trading. To truly help rhinos, wildlife officials say animal welfare groups, hunters, and conservationists should realize they have a shared enemy and set their sights on funding conservation groups and taking action against poachers and those who traffic animal parts.
If you ask Knowlton, the opposition to his hunt has cost more rhinos’ lives than it’s saved. “If this had happened earlier, there would be more rhinos on the ground — period, end of story,” Knowlton said. “You would have $350,000 more to protect them, and you would have one of the problem causers out of the way.”
While the debate on whether the hunt will hurt or help the black rhino isn’t likely to be settled soon, hunters and animal activists can perhaps agree that the auction and the ensuing controversy gave the endangered species’ plight one thing it desperately needs: attention.
“I don’t know if the black rhino ever got more awareness than it got over this situation, “Knowlton said. “And with that, hopefully it gives it a better chance of surviving in the future.”