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Original Source: Dallas News

A permit to hunt an endangered African black rhino has sold for US$350 000 at a closely watched auction that’s been criticised by wildlife and animal rights groups.

Protesters gather holding signs near the Dallas Convention Center where the Dallas Safari Club held its weekend show and auction. © Tony Gutierrez/The Associated Press

The Dallas Safari Club and the African nation of Namibia auctioned the permit on Saturday to raise money for efforts to protect the black rhino.

Safari Club spokesman Steve Wagner confirmed the sale of the permit at the closed-door event. He declined to name the buyer.

The auction has drawn howls from critics, including wildlife and animal rights groups, and the FBI last week said it was investigating death threats against members of the club.

Ben Carter, executive director of the Safari Club, defended the auction. He said all money raised will go toward rhino conservation efforts. He also said the rhino that the winner will hunt is old, male and non-breeding and that the animal was likely to be targeted for removal anyway because it was becoming aggressive and threatening other wildlife.

Carter added that wildlife experts say culling a herd is an acceptable habitat management practice. “In most cases, this animal is detrimental,” Carter said. “He’s past his prime.”

But critics have questioned that logic. Officials from the Humane Society and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have said that while culling can be appropriate in abundant animal populations, all black rhinos should be protected, given their endangered status.

An estimated 4 000 black rhinos remain in the wild, down from 70 000 in the 1960s. Nearly 1 800 are in Namibia, according to the safari club.

Critics have also said any hunting of a rhino sends a bad message to the public. “This auction is telling the world that an American will pay anything to kill their species,” Jeffrey Flocken, North American regional director of the Massachusetts-based International Fund for Animal Welfare, said earlier this week. “This is, in fact, making a spectacle of killing an endangered species.”

The auction took place Saturday night in downtown Dallas under tight security and behind closed doors. Organisers got their wish to at least break the previous high bid for one of the permits in Namibia, which is US$223 000. The nation offers five permits a year, and the one auctioned Saturday was the first to be made available for purchase outside of Namibia.

The winning bidder could have come from anywhere in the world, and at least some bidders were expected to enter by phone.

About 40 protesters gathered early Saturday evening outside the convention center where the auction and a pre-auction dinner took place. They held signs and chanted. Most dispersed by just after 6 p.m.

Bob Fretwell of Mesquite holds a sign protesting outside the Dallas Convention Center. © Tony Gutierrez/The Associated Press

Jim and Lauren Ries traveled with their children from Atlanta to protest the auction of the rare black rhino hunting permit in Dallas. Jim Ries said it was his son Carter, 12, and daughter Olivia, 11, who pushed for them to go and participate.

“We heard what the Dallas Safari Club was doing, and we thought it was just wrong that they were auctioning off to kill a black rhino, and we really got upset that they were thinking this,” Carter Ries said.

Jim Ries said his children are passionate about animal conservation and were working to help adopt cheetahs in Africa. The family started a nonprofit called One More Generation, dedicated to saving endangered species.

“There’s less than 5 000 black rhinos left on the planet,” the father said, “and if our kids ever want to see a rhino left in the wild, we can’t be pulling the trigger on every one we say is too old to breed.”

Safari Club director Carter said he and club members were deluged in the days before the auction by angry messages, including the death threats.

Photo released by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a black rhino male and calf in South Africa. © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

“It appears to be an orchestrated series from people who are strongly anti-hunting,” Carter said.

Poachers long have targeted all species of rhino, primarily for its horn, which is valuable on the international black market. Made of the protein keratin, the chief component in fingernails and hooves, the horn has been used in carvings and for medicinal purposes, mostly in Asia. The near-extinction of the species also has been attributed to habitat loss.

– Nomaan Merchant and Michael Graczyk, The Associated Press

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