2 American Hunters Try Bringing Home The Endangered Rhinos They're Shooting Dead
Two trophy hunters who want to import the carcasses of sport-hunted African black rhinos are going to have to answer to the government first.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced on Thursday that it is reviewing permit applications from the hunters. One of these permits was filed by Corey Knowlton, the hunter who was nationally vilified last January when he bid $350,000 for a permit to hunt the black rhino in Namibia at an auction held by the Dallas Safari Club.
The hunters already secured the permits to hunt the rhinos, but right now, they can't import the trophies. While USFWS has not announced whether the animals have been killed yet, the first application, from Knowlton, states that the animal will to be hunted in 2014 upon issuance of the permit to import the trophy.
According to Jeff Flocken, North American Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), it's likely that Knowlton has not killed the rhino yet. In fact, back in March, the Dallas Safari Club wired the "donation" of $350,000 to the Namibian government. But as it turns out, the receipt is contingent on whether the club obtains this permit from the U.S. government to import the animal's carcass as a trophy. So if Knowlton can't bring his trophy home, Namibia won't get the money.
Documents reveal that the other permit applicant is a Las Vegas resident named Michael Luzich. A member of the NRA's "Ring of Freedom," Luzich is a founder and managing partner of the Nevada-based investment firm Luzich Partners LLC, and founded a casino operator called Peninsula Gaming Partners LLC. Luzich independently negotiated with the Namibian government to secure his permit to trophy hunt a black rhino. So far, it's unclear whether Luzich has killed the rhino assigned to him yet.
Only 1,800 black rhinos remain in Namibia. Considered a critically endangered species by the IUCN Red List, the species has been in sharp decline as of late. Its horn is highly sought after by poachers for sale on the black market in Asia and use in traditional medicine.
Some argue that this type of expensive trophy hunt benefits the species because the money funds conservation programs and anti-poaching initiatives. And for an endangered species with only 5,000 members left in the wild, swift protection is surely needed. But Flocken says that trophy hunting rare species is actually having the opposite effect. By killing an endangered species, hunters set the precedent that owning this rare species is desirable - specifically because it is rare. And the logic of killing an animal to save it is "insane," he says.
"By hunting these animals, we're merely shifting its economic value to sport hunting," Flocken told The Dodo. " We go from valuing a rhino for its horn to valuing a dead rhino on wall."
"What we're showing is that Americans will pay anything to kill rare species. This does not incentivize protection for rare species in wild."
An independent poll conducted in September showed that 89 percent of Americans oppose hunting rhinos for sport, while 77 percent oppose private organizations raffling off the opportunity to hunt endangered species in Africa. Now, Americans will have the opportunity to tell USFWS whether they think the trophies should be allowed into the country during its 30-day public comment period.
Knowlton and Luzich have not responded to The Dodo's request for comment.