Saving an endangered species… by hunting it

Animal conservation can be a very touchy subject, so it should come as no surprise that a man received enormous backlash for purchasing the rights to hunt an endangered species.

Corey Knowlton spent $350,000 at a Dallas auction for the chance to hunt a black rhinoceros in the southern African nation of Namibia. He also received many threats to his and his family’s lives since news broke out of his peculiar auction purchase.

First, I had no idea someone could buy the rights to hunt an endangered animal. Doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose of protecting the animal in the first place?

Yes and no. As much as some animal rights groups might argue otherwise, animal conservation is not a black and white issue. The money generated by the rights to hunt this animal will save many more rhinos.

Knowlton himself is a professed conservationist, which is why he was willing to dole out so much cash to win the auction. The $350,000 will be donated to the Namibian government’s black rhino conservation efforts.

Some may argue that you can’t put a price on any life, especially one that is endangered. Those who may argue this have sent Knowlton death threats and insensitive comments, causing him to hire bodyguards.

While I agree that it is both foolish and unfeasible to measure a life in terms of monetary value, in the case of Knowlton, his goal is not to evaluate the value of a black rhino’s life, but rather to contribute money toward a commendable endeavor.

Knowlton also believes that by hunting the animal he is helping to preserve it. According to Knowlton’s supporters, this claim is based on sound science.

The hunt itself will be organized and supervised by the Namibian government, so it will not be as if Knowlton will be able to shoot the first rhino he spots. For the event, the Namibian government has identified a handful of black rhinos that can be hunted.

These specific rhinos were selected because they are old, no longer capable of breeding, and are considered a dangerous threat to the younger rhinos. The people who threaten Knowlton’s life are ignorant of this science, because they ironically ignore the value of killing one rhino but want to kill Knowlton.

Knowlton claims the rhino is a significant threat to its own kind: “One of the other ear-tagged killer rhinos is going to injure it. And then either lions or hyenas are going to drag it down. It’s going to die [in] a horrible manner, slowly.”

His logic follows that donating a huge sum of money towards conservation efforts while eliminating a natural threat to the species should be seen as a “win-win.”

And I would have to agree.

Killing this rhino is about more than just a hunt, more than just a man’s desire to enhance his own ego. It’s about bringing awareness to a critical issue and supporting it both financially and pragmatically. Those who want to kill Knowlton are simply playing out a “The Most Dangerous Game” fantasy.

Reach the columnist at jjmah@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @JonathanMah