Politics & Government

Texas hunter kills endangered black rhino

This photo released by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a black rhino male and calf in Mkuze, South Africa.
This photo released by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a black rhino male and calf in Mkuze, South Africa. AP

A Texan who paid $350,000 for a controversial permit to hunt an endangered black rhino has killed the animal in Namibia and is likely on his way back home.

Corey Knowlton, the 36-year-old Dallas man who bought the rare permit to hunt the near-extinct double-horned rhinoceros, spent the last year and a half planning this hunt before traveling to Windhoek, Namibia, earlier this month.

“It’s a very challenging hunt,” said Ben Carter, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club that sold the permit. “A lot of people who don’t know about hunting or how it works thought it was like going out and shooting a cow. It’s not.”

News of Knowlton’s hunting conquest spread like wildfire Wednesday, partially because a CNN camera crew went along to document the multi-day outing.

This has been a controversial issue since the sale of the permit was announced.

Conservationists maintain that there must be a better way to save a species than to let one of the herd be hunted and killed. Hunters say all money raised was donated to the Namibian government so that more of the herd can be cared for and saved.

“I felt like from day one it was something benefiting the black rhino,” Knowlton told CNN after killing one of the rhinos on the Namibian government’s approved hunting list.

“Being on this hunt, with the amount of criticism it brought and the amount of praise it brought from both sides, I don't think it could have brought more awareness to the black rhino.”

Knowlton’s kill came after he learned another eligible rhino had died, likely from natural causes.

Rare opportunity

Namibia’s government allows five black rhinos to be hunted each year as part of a conservation program geared to boost the long-term survival of the species, federal officials say.

The Dallas Safari Club, which has worked with Namibian officials for years on conservation, announced in late 2013 that it would auction off one of the rare permits — the first to be sold in the United States.

The black rhinoceros, once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, has had its population drop sharply since the 1960s. Now there are only about 5,000 — and many of those, nearly 1,800, are in Namibia, a southern African country that borders the Atlantic Ocean.

The black rhino, as well as its white counterpart, is hunted by poachers for its horns, which are highly valued for medicinal and therapeutic purposes and can be sold on the international black market for anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000.

The chosen rhino was an older bull, one who no longer breeds. And he was known to hurt others in the group, killing babies, breeding males and females of any age.

The exact location of the hunt was not disclosed to avoid letting poachers know where more of the herd could be found.

“I want to see the black rhino as abundant as it can be,” Knowlton told CNN before he killed the rhino. “I believe in the survival of the species.”

Political fallout

Carson said Knowlton is likely on his way back to Texas — with the spoils of his victory, including the rhino’s horns.

Conservationists have long criticized this hunt, saying there must be another way to help the species.

“Bringing dead black rhinos back to the U.S. as trophies does nothing to help save wild rhinos — if anything, it will encourage other people to try to hunt these endangered animals for sport,” PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders has said. “PETA is calling on the authorities to throw these hunters’ pay-to-play requests where they belong — in the garbage.”

Humane Society officials have weighed in as well, particularly when the permit was formally issued earlier this year.

“When the global community is working so hard to stop people from killing rhinos for their horns, we are giving a stamp of approval to a special class of privileged elite to kill these majestic animals as a head-hunting exercise,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society. “The inconsistency is startling, and upends our moral authority.”

Knowlton and the Dallas Safari Club continue to receive criticism and death threats.

People are calling and writing, leaving messages such as “We should kill you,” or “We should hunt you,” Carter said. “They don’t understand that if you sell permits, you can raise enough money to take care of them so they will be around.”

Carter said the rhino hunt was successful and a “great statement for sustainable use hunting and conservation.”

“I think we are fortunate we live in a state that still has a strong hunting culture,” Carter said. “People in this state understand it. It’s people who haven’t been exposed to wildlife that don't get it. We are trying to do our best to educate them every day.”

Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley