DALLAS – A permit to hunt an endangered African black rhino sold Saturday night for $350,000 at a Dallas auction held to raise money for conservation efforts but was criticized by wildlife advocates.
Steve Wagner, a spokesman for the Dallas Safari Club, which sponsored the closed-door event, confirmed the sale of the permit for a hunt in the African nation of Namibia. He declined to name the buyer.
Ben Carter, executive director of the Safari Club, has defended the auction. He said all money raised will go toward protecting the species. He also said the rhino that the winner will be allowed to hunt is old, male and nonbreeding – and that the animal was likely to be targeted for removal anyway because it was becoming aggressive and threatening other wildlife.
But the auction drew howls from critics, including wildlife and animal rights groups.
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.
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 IFAW, said. “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. Organizers hoped to at least break the previous high bid for one of the permits in Namibia, which was $223,000. The nation offers five permits each year, and the one auctioned Saturday was the first to be made available for purchase outside of Namibia.
About 40 protesters gathered early Saturday evening outside the convention center where the auction and a pre-auction dinner were to take place.
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.