By Ben O'Brien
The fierce and unrelenting attack on hunters around the world continued this week, but this time antis have a new prime target: Dallas Safari Club and Corey Knowlton.
“They don’t know who I am,” Knowlton told CBS. “They don’t know what I’m about. They don’t even understand the process.”
Yet, the death threats came…lots of them. His social media accounts and e-mail flooded with threats not only on Knowlton’s life, but on his children’s lives as well.
“Murdering endangered animals is wrong,” one commenter contested. “You should burn in hell.”
“They’re wanting to kill me,” he told a local news station. “They’re wanting to kill my children. They’re wanting to skin us alive.”
Even though he’s been forced to employ full-time security to protect his family, Knowlton isn’t backing down.
He was initially an anonymous winner of a controversial black rhino hunt in Namibia auctioned off for $350,000 at the Dallas Safari Club Convention earlier this month, but he is anonymous no more. He’s using national news outlets to speak out.
Knowlton, a north Texas native, is a featured cast member on the popular show “Jim Shockey’s The Professionals” and works for the Hunting Consortium as a consultant. He’s hunted in six continents, taken over 120 different game species and has been a huge supporter of the conservation movement both in the U.S. and abroad.
Now he’s become yet another poster child in the modern hunter’s fight against hatred and ignorance.
Controversy Overshadows the Facts
In this new age cesspool of social media, we all seem to be drowning in our own opinions. Rational arguments have lost merit in an environment that promotes quick judgments and stream of consciousness decision-making. For some it takes little more than a photo and a headline for an action to be deemed controversial.
I would agree that some readers (non-hunters or those who have no preconceived notion on the subject) might see a photo of a black rhino, read the headline “Hunter Pays Big Bucks to Kill Endangered Rhino” and immediately think something sinister is afoot—some kind of illicit, bloody horror pulled from a Tarantino flick.
Veteran anti-hunters, of course, see an opportunity to further their mission of advocacy. It should be easy to convince the masses that hunting endangered animals is akin to murder, and they’ve got a convenient victim in Corey Knowlton.
Not so fast. This rhino tag in Namibia is at the center of one of the most regulated, most scientifically vindicated hunts that has ever taken place in Africa.
Funding Conservation through Hunting
Every black rhino that inhabits Namibia is a property of the state. This allows the government to tag every one of these animals with an ear notch. Through this tracking system officials can determine many things about the health of the population, including age and reproductive status.
But nowadays there aren’t a whole lot of black rhinos to monitor.
There is currently an estimated 5,000 in Africa—Namibia has a total of 1,750 South Western black rhinos—which is down from 65,000 individuals in 1970, according to savetherhino.org. Given those figures, the word “endangered” seems right on the money.
As with most African animals in crisis, large-scale poaching is to blame for the sharp decline, as black rhino horns can be sold on the international black market for anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000.
As a part of an aggressive plan to further the species, the Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) is funding community conservation programs, anti-poaching campaigns, translocations and wildlife-based tourism development. They also frequently move rhinos from problem regions to communal conservancies or national parks so there can be ongoing study and management.
MET views hunting as a critical part of their plan after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species ruled in 2004 that the country could sell up to five permits for black rhino hunts each year.
This year, for the first time ever, officials decided to let the Dallas Safari Club auction off one of the permits to raise money for rhino conservation. The Club had backing from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to go forward with the auction with the express purpose of culling a “rogue” male from a herd in the Mangetti National Park. The bull targeted would be of advanced age, no longer capable of breeding and probably known to have killed or injured others in his group.
The elimination of bulls of this caliber has been proven to “stimulate population growth in some areas,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 2012, the IUCN released an 11-page document entitled “Guiding Principles on Trophy Hunting as a Tool for Creating Conservation Incentives,” that details the benefits of such hunts.
“The IUCN supports the philosophy and practice that on state, communal and privately-owned land in southern Africa the sustainable and well-managed consumptive use of wildlife makes a contribution to biodiversity conservation,” the document states. “And further accepts that well-managed recreational hunting has a role in the managed sustainable consumptive use of wildlife populations.”
So on Jan. 11, the scheduled auction took place, but it didn’t go down as all parties expected.
“There has been a wide range of reaction,” Executive Director of the Dallas Safari Club Ben Carter told the Washington Post. “There’s a lot of people out there, frankly, that are totally without any knowledge of how wildlife and conservation works. We’ve gotten e-mails, phone calls. One e-mail said, ‘If you auction off a permit to kill a rhino, we are going to kill you and your family.’”
One can imagine that such a reaction would cause many big-time bidders to be a bit skittish. Enter Knowlton, his anonymous sponsor and $350,000. They were able to secure the hunt with little opposition.
Knowlton admittedly wanted the experience, while also keeping a keen eye on the elements of this complicated equation.
“I want to be intimately involved with a black rhino. If I go over there and shoot it or not shoot it, it’s beyond the point,” he told WFAA news in Texas.
As with other similar endeavors, the bottom line is that hunting creates value, value leads to conservation, and conservation leads to the propagation of wild game populations.
It is the Namibian government’s vision that by 2030 all subspecies of the rhino are “re-established in viable, healthy breeding populations throughout its former range, and is sustainably utilized.”
The overall goal, they say, is to collectively manage the black rhinos of Namibia as a metapopulation, increasing it by at least five percent each year.
Now they’ve got a little extra capital to help them achieve those goals—$350,000 to be exact.