Kill a rhino?

Obviously, the Rhino permit sale has brought a lot of media attention in the last few weeks.  If you haven’t heard, the Dallas Safari club has auctioned off a permit to kill a black rhino, an endangered species, in Namibia.  This is the first time the Namibia government has sold a permit outside of their country.  The permit sold for $350,000 and the money will go to “Game Products Trust Fund, a Namibian government fund that supports conservation with revenue from the sale of wildlife products and national park entrance fees.”

And people are outraged.  They traveled from Atlanta to protest the auction and have sent death threats to the permit holder as well as the Dallas Safari Club.  Being a biologist, I have learned to live in a hunting world but I am not a hunter.  I do however agree that meat eaters should definitely take from the land rather than the feedlot.  I just know I personally cannot be the one to be out there ending an animal’s life.  I do, however, disagree with the game management approach we have to wildlife.  Hunters fund our conservation so we conserve what we want to hunt. Basically, we follow the money.  And in the big world of conservation, we often do the same.

Let me ask you this, how many of you have helped the rhino or another endangered species today?  Where was the philanthropist/conservationist that stepped up and purchased this permit just so that they wouldn’t kill the rhino?

Namibia is culling their black rhino population.  When I first interviewed for a zookeeper position about 11 years ago, one of the interview questions was, “What is culling and how do you feel about it in captivity and in the wild?”  That question has always stuck with me.  What a profound question to ask an entry-level zookeeper, and at that time, I had no idea what culling was.  So I had to first ask what it was,  then make my decision, and answer the question.  It turns out, 11 years later I still don’t have an answer.  Many animals are culled in the wild and we do expect our hunters to take this task on for us.  Deer, elephants, bear, etc.  You name it, somewhere there is probably an overpopulation of that species.  But man has caused most of these problems with urban sprawl and habitat destruction.  So we are tasked to try and make it right. So who decides what is right and what is wrong?  Do we really need to have a reward for every right thing we do?

The real problem with rhinos isn’t hunters, it’s poaching.  There are less than 5,000 black rhinos left in Africa, and numbers are so low mainly because of illegal poaching.  Rhino horns are still being sold on the black market and when there is a demand, poachers will find a supply.  I find it hard to blame those individual poachers.  Once while talking to a first grade class about poaching the kids asked me, why do poachers want the horn?  I answered a complex answer but mainly it came down to money.  Those kids then came back with, but why would you kill an animal just to make some money?  I love young kids outlook on life and I wish they held on to it forever, but if you were starving, would you go to extremes and sacrifice your morals?

So maybe you can see this situation is so complex it’s hard to see which way is up.  I find myself all over the map but one thing I am thankful for is everyone with his or her opinion.  Without the extremists on each side, I wouldn’t see their point of view and try and understand their thoughts.  I just wish that everyone were honest with their true intentions.

Now for the most important part, what can you do?  So if you care, you should act, get involved.  The easiest way is to financially support the organizations that are doing the kind of work you agree with.  Find the black rhino conservation groups that are protecting the species habitat and support them.  If you don’t have financial means to support, you can still provide some easy support.  Sign up for their newsletters, follow them on social media, and share their work with others.  When these groups apply for grants, they often use the number of supporters they have to acquire funds.  You can easily add one to their numbers to increase their chances.   You may not have $350,000 but you can still make a difference.

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