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Critically Endangered Black Rhino are very special creatures, and the Namibian Black Rhino (which include desert-adapted black rhino) are in a league all of their own.

 

Adapted to a more specialized kind of diet than that of a white rhino, black rhino have a prehensile (pointed) upper lip which enables then to strip juicy bark off young trees, and get a firm grip on soft shrubbery or tufts of grass that they like. They are smaller than White Rhino, and have a slightly different arc and dip to their back.

Black Rhino are more solitary creatures, but the older males can be extremely aggressive in defending their territory, sometimes killing other rhino in territorial disputes; which in turn ensures the survival of strongest and the best gene-pool to be carried over to the young.

It is this trait of aggression that had been exploited by the Dallas Safari Club in their January 2014 auction of the trophy hunting permit for a black rhino in Namibia. The rhino on auction had been nicknamed ‘Ronnie’ by Animal Advocates worldwide, despite the fact that no single rhino had been identified to be killed. The issuing of PAC (Problem Animal Control) Permits in Namibia has been surrounded by controversy, when it surfaced that certain Hunting Outfitters were pre-selling these permits months in advance. A problem animal is supposed to be put down within 48 hours of completion of the investigation into such complaints (by the Namibian MET – Ministry of Environment and Tourism). With more than a year having passed since the auction, it is therefore just not possible for ‘Ronnie the Rhino’ to be placed in the category of a rogue bull as the Dallas Safari Club and the auction winner Corey Knowlton have been claiming all along.

The hold-up in the meantime, had been the non-ruling of the USF&WS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service) and their trophy import permit application that had been submitted by Knowlton. In short Knowlton and the Dallas Safari Club held the Namibian Government to ransom for the winning bid of $350k; forcing their support in manipulating the USF&WS to issue the import permit. In other words, if Knowlton could not take home his trophy rhino, he would not pay the bid amount.

This is a clear indication that this fiasco is not about conservation, but all about ego. If it was not, this hunt would have been completed last year already, since Knowlton was so desperate to ‘intimately experience a black rhino’.

As part of the import permit review process, there was a period of time allowed for the input of public comment for consideration. The USF&WS was not prepared for the avalanche of around 135 000 petition signatures and 15 000 emails all opposing the issuing of the permit. But, it was all window dressing.

In a shocking turn of events, Knowlton’s import permit was approved by the USF&WS on Thursday. In a statement by the USF&WS they mentioned that they have based their decision on scientific information only. They mention the pro-trophy hunting WWF and CBNRM programs as being in support of the permit allocation. This begs the question as to why they requested public input in the first place - if they completely ignored it.

In the meantime, an investigation into the poaching of rhino in Namibia had been completed by a well-known investigative journalist, and this partially exposed shocking numbers of rhino lost in Namibia (up to a quarter of the total Namibian Black Rhino Population poached in 2013 & 2014), as well as the involvement of various hunting outfitters in highly questionable practices with regards to trophy hunting in Namibia. Unfortunately, this information came to light way too late to be included in the USFWS public comment period.

In addition to the timing, the decision by the USFWS to support big money instead of true conservation was completely unexpected.

The second import permit was issued to Michael Luzich, and individual who should never even be allowed back in Namibia, after being responsible for the ‘accidental’ killing of a pregnant black rhino cow in Mangetti. He was a client of Thormӓhlen & Cochren, and the Professional Hunter involved, is Jan du Plessis of Sebra Hunt Safaris, also recently in the news for allegedly pre-selling a problem elephant permit without the elephant having been identified.

Luzich is supposed to pay $200k for his black rhino trophy.

The decision of the USF&WS flies in the face of their apparent concern for the elephants of Zimbabwe. They upheld a ban on the importation of trophy hunted Zimbabwean elephants, numbering tens of thousands. The USF&WS also recently applauded the Kenyan Government for burning a 15 ton ivory stockpile.

It is becoming increasingly problematic to take an institution such as USF&WS seriously as having the best interest of our wildlife at heart. Their decisions and support or condemnation of various conservation issues are just not consistent, and their disregard for the opinion of conservationists living and working with these animals is alarming to say the least.

In the meantime, our Rhino are dying, either being poached or trophy hunted, while institutions who do have the power to save them are pandering to their strategic allies.

CJ Carrington © Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation.

29 March 2015