As recently as the mid-1990s, there were only an estimated 2,400 black rhinos in the wild, down from a high of about 65,000 in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Conservation efforts over the past decade have increased the black rhinos numbers to an estimated 3,600 to 11,000 animals.
With the resurgence in numbers, South Africa and Namibia have been pushing to re-open very limited trophy hunting of the black rhinos, and in October the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species agreed to both country’s proposals to resume extremely limited hunting of black rhinos.
Both South African and Namibia requested annual quotas of five black rhinos. Both countries believe they will be able to sell the right to kill the small number of rhinos for tens of thousands of dollars per animal which they will be able to use to help fund their conservation efforts. Both countries say that they will restrict hunters to killing older, non-breeding males to avoid any long-term impact on the size of the black rhino herds.
Still, animal rights activists and environmentalists complained that even a very small hunt is likely to encourage potential poachers. Jason Bell-Leask of the International Fund for Animal Welfare told Reuters,
We know rhinos are still being poached for their horns and the poachers are indiscriminate, so we think this proposal sends out the wrong signal.
Limited rhino hunt allowed in SA, Namibia. Afrol News, October 4, 2004.
African nations seek to end black rhino hunting ban. Stuff (New Zealand), September 20, 2004.
Global ban on black rhino hunt is eased. Reuters, October 4, 2004.
National Geographic New recently reported on a new practice in South Africa where hunters are paying a lot of money to track and shoot elephants and rhinoceros with tranquilizer darts.
National Geographic profiled South Africa’s Timbavati Nature Reserve which has an ongoing five-year project to monitor the population dynamics of elephants in the reserve. Under Timbavati’s program, big game hunters pay in order to track and shoot the animals. As soon as their tranquilized, staff move in and tag the animal with a radio collar so its movements can be tracked.
The Reserve has a similar program with rhinoceros where a microchip is implanted in the animals horn both for identification purposes and to deter poaching.
Although it seems like a win-win situation for both hunters and conservationists, not everybody is thrilled by the idea. Newly elected president of the International Rangers Federation David Zeller worries that animals will be tranquilized repeatedly in such hunts simply for commercial purposes,
What if someone decided to have the same animal hunted over and over? It goes down, staggers back to its feet, only to be brought down a month or two later by another dart. People are capable of canned-lion hunting. What would stop them doing this? . . .This is a new thing, and we need to have a national policy set that will help our provincial authorities to apply the right criteria for issuing permits.
Still even with those caveats, this seems like an excellent program. At least until People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals points out that you wouldn’t let people shoot children up with tranquilizers for research so why should people be allowed to do it to animals?
In Africa, Hunters Pay to Tranquilize Game for Research. Leon Marshall, National Geographic News, June 16, 2003.