Vassil, Wikimedia Commons
The co-host of a hunting show on the Outdoor Channel recently spent $350,000 for the chance to hunt an endangered black rhinoceros in southern Africa. Corey Knowlton won the Dallas Safari Club's auction for a permit to hunt the rhino in Namibia. Knowlton says he and his family have received death threats after his name was made public through social media. "As much as I would love them all to live forever, they are going to die," Knowltontold CNN
. "The older males are killing each other, and something has to be done about it."
Nearly any animal can be legally killed in many parts of Africa, so long as the hunter pays the right amount of money. For rare and endangered species, the cost can escalate to many thousands of U.S. dollars.
"National parks are obviously trying to make money," Johnny Rodrigues, Chairman for Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told Discovery News. "The hunters have to pay the parks if they want to shoot the animals."
It can be a Catch-22, since the parks often struggle to pay their staff, which include those who work to care for and protect the animals. The high price tag of a permit may serve as a deterrent, but it also reflects how much poachers can earn without even benefiting the parks.[/br
Patrick Giraud, Wikimedia Commons
The payment needed to legally shoot an elephant drops to $50,000 in Zimbabwe, with a further loss of $10,000 if the elephant has no tusks. "The reason rhinos are more valuable than elephants is because the horn is so valuable and in such high demand by the Chinese," Rodrigues said.
Patrick Giraud, Wikimedia Commons
$20,000 can allow hunters with appropriate permits to kill several rare animals in many parts of Africa. Leopards are on that list, even though The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists them as "threatened."
Kevin Pluck, Wikimedia Commons
The price tag on lions is also $20,000. In terms of what happens to the dead animals, "As far as I know," Rodrigues said, "once the animals are hunted, they are exported to the hunter's home country." Upon arrival, the hunter may preserve the animal's dead body and put it on display.
The cost to legally hunt a cheetah in Zimbabwe is $20,000. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists them as "vulnerable," but further mentions that "the known cheetah population is approximately 7,500-10,000 adult animals." In 1975, the number of cheetahs in Africa was estimated at 15,000, revealing that this species has significantly declined in only three generations.
Majestic Roan antelopes also can be hunted for $20,000 in parts of Africa. While its population is more numerous than wild cats, this species has been eliminated from large parts of its former range, primarily due to poaching and habitat loss.
Paul Maritz, Wikimedia Commons
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reports that sable antelopes possess "high value as a trophy animal."
Ikiwaner, Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes the cost to hunt an animal differs if the target is male or female. That is the case for African buffalos, since males have larger horns than females do. The horn size difference costs a hunter an extra two grand to shoot a male African buffalo.
Roland H., Wikimedia Commons
A hunter must pay $5,000 to legally shoot a giraffe in Zimbabwe. The IUCN Red List reports that "a recent preliminary population estimate suggests a decline in the total population has taken place." While giraffes are currently listed as being animals of "least concern," that classification might soon change if the estimate is substantiated.
Valdiney Pimenta, Wikimedia Commons
On the less expensive side of the scale are flamingos, which cost only $100 to legally hunt in Zimbabwe. The value of this and the other animals to conservationists and other animal lovers comes without a price tag, however. To them, the animals are priceless. Nevertheless, by putting a price on the heads of animals, some national parks in Africa earn money that helps to fuel their operations. The biggest problem is poachers, who receive relatively light sentences for their crimes.
Rodrigues explained, "The only thing a poacher would get if they trapped these animals is a jail sentence if they are caught."
The United States has listed the southern white rhinoceros as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act to curb the rampant poaching of wild populations.
The United States is a hub for the rhino horn trade, and products often transit here en route to South East Asia. Indeed, the United States has the greatest number of trophy hunters importing horns as trophies, said Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife for the Humane Society International.
Between 2002 and 2012, Americans imported 116 horn carvings, 206 horn pieces, 63 horns and 688 hunting trophies (including the head and horns of a rhino), according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Criminals in the U.S. buy these trophies and sell them in China or Vietnam, where the horns are used in folk remedies for their perceived, though non-existent, medicinal properties. Libation cups are also often carved from the horns in Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures. Horns are sold for about $65,000 per kilogram.
All this has doomed the rhino, which is being poached in record numbers across its range.
Four species of rhinos — the Javan, black, Sumatran, and Indian — which are highly endangered are already protected under the Endangered Species Act. The southern white rhino is the fifth and final addition (the northern white subspecies went extinct in 2006).
Despite its name, the southern white rhino is grey and a hulking beast weighing about 3,300 to 5,300 pounds with a heights of about 6 feet (1.85 m).
There are 20,160 individuals of the southern white rhino in the wilds of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.
The world was successfully protecting the southern white rhinoceros under an international wildlife trafficking agreement called “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species” or CITES. Then in 1995, lobbying by South Africa de-listed the nation’s southern white rhino population as a “most endangered” species under CITES, and allowed limited hunting and exports.
In 2005, the international community also de-listed Swaziland’s white rhino population.
Since then, a steady stream of trophy horns has been transiting the globe. The numbers tell a grim story. In 2012, poachers in South Africa killed 668 rhinos, up from 13 in 2007. And this year some 618 rhinos have been poached in South Africa.
“The reason that rhino poaching increased so much over the past six years, and continues to rise, is that there is growing wealth in Viet Nam,” Telecky said. “More people are able to afford to buy rhino horn now than ever before.”
Without detailed genetic tests, it is difficult to say whether the horns belong to the white rhino or one of the other highly endangered species. So, criminals in the U.S. who sell horns of other endangered rhino species could claim their product was from the southern white rhino.
Now, with the listing under the Endangered Species Act, all criminals trading in rhino horns will be prosecuted in the United States.
Image: southern white rhino. Courtesy: Zigomar