Environmentalists not only signed a petition to block one Texas hunter from importing a legally hunted black rhinoceros, but continue to threaten him.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service generally receives about eight comments each time it publishes a permit application, but not in the case of Corey Knowlton’s application. Not only did 15,000 people angrily comment against Knowlton’s request to import the carcass of an endangered black rhinoceros, but 135,000 people signed a petition requesting Knowlton’s application be denied.
The controversy began in January, when Knowlton and a Dallas-based hunting consultant bid $350,000 in an auction to purchase one of five rhino-hunting permits sold by the Namibian government. The auction, according to the Dallas Safari Club, represents a fundraising effort to save the species.
Almost immediately upon winning the auction, Knowlton began receiving a plethora of threats from environmentalists. Some of the responses were so threatening — not only to Knowlton, but also to his wife and children — that they prompted Knowlton, an Outdoor Channel host, to hire a security detail.
“If I sound emotional, it’s because I have people threatening my kids,” Knowlton told CNN in January. “It’s because I have people threatening to kill me right now [and] I’m having to talk to the FBI and have private security to keep my children from being skinned alive and shot at.”
Although the Humane Society vehemently opposes the sanctioned rhino hunt, the International Union for Conservation of Nature supports Namibia’s efforts to save the black rhino from extinction. According to Namibia officials, the nation, which is home to about 1,800 of the world’s 4,880 living black rhinos, sells permits to kill five rhinos each year, with proceeds benefiting conservation efforts.
Reportedly, the five rhinos have already been designated in order to cull the population and eliminate older males who no longer breed but who often kill younger males. Knowlton’s permit is not the first and will likely not be the last issued through the program. Still, environmentalists insist the program’s logic is flawed.
“The fact that some Americans are showing they will pay any price to kill one of the last black rhinos is not going to help the species in the long run, but only continue to put a price on its head,” the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Jeff Flocken said.
And rhinos certainly have a price on their heads. Their horns have been luxury commodities for thousands of years. Not only are they used to make everything from daggers in Yemen to detoxifying powder in Vietnam, but western trophy hunters have paid high prices to trophy-hunt rhino for more than a century. Today, rhino horn is twice as valuable as gold, selling for about $45,000 per pound on the black market.
Responsibility now rests with the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine if Knowlton’s permit will be granted. Although the agency granted such a permit to import a trophy black rhino as recently as 2009, agency officials say they are applying extra scrutiny to Knowlton’s request because of rising poaching rates.
Meanwhile, Knowlton’s hunt has been postponed as he awaits a decision. Knowlton has stated that although he is confident the permit will be granted, he has not yet considered whether he will continue with the hunt if the permit is denied. He is, however, confident in his decision to purchase the permit.
I’m a hunter. 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.