On January 11, 2014, the Special Black Rhinoceros Conservation Auction at Dallas Safari Club’s Convention raised $350,000. This is the largest single boost of black rhino conservation revenue to the Republic of Namibia’s Wildlife Product Trust Fund ever dedicated to black rhino. A great deal of gratitude is owed to the two gentlemen who contributed the total sum after other prospective bidders withdrew from the competition before the bidding began. The antics of the antis interfered with the intended auction and reduced the amount of dedicated revenue expected to be raised for rhino conservation. Now three (3) or more rhino may have to be taken to generate the same revenue the one (1) rhino would have raised but for the interference of the antis. Read on to fully appreciate these historical events.
More than a decade ago, the leadership of the African Rhino Specialist Group of the IUCN (the largest conservation body in the world) began approaching me about the potential of generating conservation revenue for the black rhino in Southern Africa. They have persistently asked two things: (1) What success was I having getting USFWS to issue trophy import permits, and (2) how much conservation revenue did I think a black rhino hunt would bring at auction in the United States? In response, Conservation Force made the effort the center post of its Black Rhino Initiative. Yours truly also drafted and initiated the Rhino-Tiger Conservation Act and headed a de-horning effort in the 1990s.
In 2004, the African Rhino Specialist Group supported the passage of the Black Rhino Quota Resolution (Res. Conf. 13.5) passed at CITES CoP13. That Resolution was a recommendation by the Parties of CITES to permit a quota of five hunting trophies per year for the Republic of South Africa and another five for the Republic of Namibia. When that quota passed CITES, a number of US hunters approached Conservation Force and informally pledged that they would contribute $500,000 for a black rhino hunt and asked me to convey that to the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET). The problem was that, unlike the white rhino which has fared so well with American safari hunters’ support, the black rhino is listed as “endangered” on the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The black rhino faced the additional impediment that no endangered listed species trophy had ever been permitted import into the US even though the ESA had a provision for permitting when the taking enhanced the survival or perpetuation of the species in the wild.
Then in 2007 the USFWS published regulations that it had proposed for years. Those regulations provided how black rhino trophy imports should be marked, and they limited the number of imports per year. In 2009, the first American hunter took a black rhino in Namibia, and Conservation Force kicked into gear. We obtained authorization to legally represent the hunter, met with MET to gather relevant documentation and took hundreds of other steps in what led to the approval of that import permit in early April, 2013. See the May 2013 World Conservation Force Bulletin for a more complete story of that permit. It was the first import of a hunting trophy of an endangered listed species taken in the wild in the 40-year history of the ESA.
Upon the approval of the first import permit, Conservation Force immediately began planning the conservation auction of a black rhino that the African Rhino Specialist Group had long awaited to help restore and secure that rhino. Though we had originally intended to auction five permits at five different organizations’ conventions, the ESA technicalities were so imposing and our capacity so constrained that we proceeded with only one – that just auctioned at Dallas Safari Club’s Convention. That one auction should and probably would have generated one million dollars in dedicated conservation revenue were it not for an all-out email attack on Dallas Safari Club (DSC), prospective bidders and yours truly.
The email attacks started when the first rhino was approved in April 2013. Although the antis had not filed a comment in opposition to the first permit that had been issued in April 2013, they began a misinformation campaign attacking the USFWS, Conservation Force and the hunter whose permit had been approved. An investigative reporter had ferreted out the identity of the importing hunter and his business and literally released the information in an article with the suggestion that readers take the hunter to task and contact his business customers, though after the fact. That in turn led to ugly hate emails, including numerous death threats. This was not new to Conservation Force officers. We have received more hate mail and death threats in the past on numerous occasions. For example, when the first elephant trophy imports were approved, when polar bear trophies were approved and when our import permit to import horn of a black rhino from a de-horning safari was approved.
In the past, yours truly had been the brunt of most of that hate mail, not the hunters. With the black rhino, that changed. I will not go into details, but there are a lot of very nasty people who send extremely rude and offensive emails. The emails anger more than threaten you. In the case of the DSC rhino auction, emails went to supporting businesses asking them to pull their sponsorship of the organization’s convention and included death threats to attendees, some by email and some during the auction. The antisocial behavior had some of its intended effects. At least one convention sponsor pulled its support and many potential bidders withdrew their pledges.
The consequence is the item raised one-third the revenue that was expected for Namibia’s rhino strategy, i.e. less revenue for anti-poaching and the participating local communities that must tolerate, protect and guard that country’s important black rhino. The auction was prevented from serving as the full recovery tool intended. If the revenue proves wanting in comparison to the need, more of the annual quota will have to be allocated than would otherwise have been allocated, i.e. more will have to be auctioned than would have been. (Namibia has yet to use its full quota of five in any one year, but certainly can’t have too much money for management and anti-poaching).
The following is a self-explanatory letter that the IUCN issued shortly before the auction:
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
11 December 2013
RE: FORTHCOMING AUCTION OF A PERMIT TO HUNT A NAMIBIAN BLACK RHINO BY DALLAS SAFARI CLUB
This letter provides advice and input from IUCN’s Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi, www.iucn.org/suli) on the forthcoming auction by Dallas Safari Club (DSC) of a permit to hunt one black rhino in Namibia, as granted to them by the Government of Namibia. SULi is a cross-Commissional initiative of IUCN’s Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) and its Species Survival Commission (SSC), and includes around 300 specialists and experts from across the globe on various aspects of sustainable use of wild species and its contributions to local livelihoods.
From a conservation perspective, we believe there are sound and compelling reasons to support this auction, and do not see any valid basis for opposing it. We note that:
1. The auction is supported by the Government of Namibia, which has approved the permit to be auctioned by DSC. Namibia has an outstanding, globally recognised conservation track record. Over recent decades, wildlife numbers (including both black and white rhino) have been progressively increasing – not only in protected areas, but also on freehold and communal lands. This is near-unique in any developing country. The black rhino population now stands at around 1750. Namibia has experienced very few poaching incidents despite the alarming escalation of poaching in neighbouring countries, and despite its large free-ranging population.
2. The purpose of the auction of this permit in the USA (which Namibia would otherwise auction in-country) is to raise a larger amount of dedicated funding from the small number of black rhino it allows to be hunted each year as part of its rhino conservation strategy.
3. Sustainable use, including through trophy hunting, is a fundamental pillar of Namibia’s conservation approach, and instrumental in its success. Through farsighted legislation, Namibia has empowered rural communities and private landholders to benefit directly from wildlife, thus building up an enormous support base for conservation amongst these groups. Sustainable use of wildlife contributes directly to the livelihoods of many rural communities, dramatically reducing levels of poaching and human-wildlife conflict, and dramatically expanding the area of land devoted to wildlife as a primary land use. As a result of its sustainable use approach, Namibia currently has 44% of its land area under some form of conservation, a remarkable and unrivalled achievement.
4. Carefully managed hunting has proven to be an effective means of encouraging and enabling rural communities, private land holders, and indeed governments in a number of countries to protect and invest in wildlife. Photo-tourism is often proposed as an alternative to hunting and can be very effective in some contexts. However, unlike trophy hunting, tourism is capital intensive, requires considerable infrastructure, has higher environmental impacts, and is not viable in many landscapes (such as those distant from tourist routes, with still-low wildlife populations, lacking the required scenic qualities, or where there is political unrest). In Namibia, tourism and trophy hunting are complementary, typically taking place on the same areas of land, with trophy hunting frequently more important in the early stages of development of wildlife-based land uses.
5. The current, well-justified international concern over the escalating and appalling level of wildlife crime can lead to some confusion with legitimate, well-managed sustainable use, including trophy hunting. Well-managed trophy hunting has little to do with poaching, and indeed can be a key tool to help combat it. In Namibia, the benefits for rural communities from wildlife use have dramatically reduced levels of poaching over recent decades, and made communities powerful partners in detecting and combating wildlife crime. Trophy hunting provides not just incentive but revenue for anti-poaching efforts: without it, communal conservancies and landholders would not be able to employ the upwards of 3,000 field rangers employed to protect wildlife and enforce regulations on wildlife use, or establish the sophisticated surveillance and informer networks in place. There is also a positive anti-poaching deterrent from having professional hunters traversing remote areas. These impacts have been borne out for rhino poaching in Namibia: it has an excellent track record of apprehending the perpetrators of the small number of rhino poaching incidents over recent years, directly as a result of support for and cooperation with enforcement agencies by local communities.
6. The entire income from the auction of the permit will be paid into the the Namibian Game Products Trust Fund (GPTF). Maximising revenue to this fund will directly support practical and important rhino conservation work. This hunt will be the sixth hunt of a post-reproductive male black rhino in Namibia, and the funds generated from these earlier hunts were likewise paid into the GPTF and “ring-fenced” for rhino conservation work. The GPTF has a good record in supporting rhino conservation work, including funding
• intensive rhino monitoring programmes;
• purchase of specialized rhino management equipment (e.g. capture equipment);
• operational funds for rhino rescue and relocation work;
• purchase and deployment of radio/satellite tracking devices; and
• purchase of drones for rhino protection.
The Namibian Government is also piloting a high-tech water-point surveillance system (due to the recent elephant poisoning developments in Zimbabwe) which is likely to rely on GPTF funding for roll-out. The GPTF is the one fund that the Ministry of Environment and Tourism can rapidly access to respond to rhino threats and management needs, so it is a critically important tool in Namibia's arsenal to protect and manage its rhino.
7. The hunt is consistent with commitments under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Namibia and South Africa applied for and received the support of CITES for an annual black rhino maximum hunting quota of 5 black rhino males/year each at CoP 13 in 2004, and the permit at issue here is within this quota. The CITES' Conference of the Parties' decision was based on widespread recognition that, while black rhino remain a Critically Endangered species, hunting a small number of males could be fully consistent with and indeed contribute positively to population growth of rhino, that numbers were increasing due to successful management in both countries, and that trophy hunting could play an important role in conservation efforts as explained above.
8. Trophy hunting in Namibia is consistent with IUCN's own policy, which has long recognised that the sustainable use of wildlife can contribute to biodiversity conservation, because the social and economic benefits derived from use of species can provide incentives for people to conserve them and their habitats. IUCN has also further recognised the conservation and rural livelihood benefits that can flow from well-managed recreational hunting and trophy hunting in particular, including the part these have played in stimulating population increases for rhino. We view Namibia’s program as an excellent example of these principles in action.
For these reasons, IUCN SULi is supportive of this auction by DSC, and sees it as an effective means to raise much-needed money for rhino conservation in a manner fully consistent with Namibia’s successful rhino conservation programme.
We recognise that it is not immediately intuitive that trophy hunting – even for endangered species – can be a positive conservation tool that can be used to fight poaching and acquire more habitat for wildlife. We further understand that the very idea of hunting is abhorrent to many people. However, in a world that requires pragmatic conservation solutions, trophy hunting – where well-managed – is frequently one of the most effective conservation tools available. Capitalising on the humane demise of a post reproductive animal in order to produce tangible benefits for the conservation of its species is a sound strategy worthy of strong support.
We hope and trust that DSC’s auction is successful in its purpose of raising substantial revenue to help protect and conserve rhinos in the field.
Dr. Rosie Cooney