Roy Exum: Ever Shot A Rhinoceros?

Monday, January 13, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

An interesting auction was held in Dallas on Saturday night and someone who attended – we don’t know who – submitted a winning bid of $350,000 during a dinner at the Dallas Safari Club for the chance to shoot a black rhinoceros. The south African nation of Namibia, a sparsely-populated nation found at the lower left of the continent, has assured a valid permit despite the fact the huge animal is on the verge of extinction after first emerging into the world seven or eight million years ago.

While shooting a rhinoceros sounds like about as much fun as plugging a city bus, the idea to allow a rich American sportsman to shoot one of the beasts is a novel approach in an effort – get this -- to save the animal from extinction. Scientists have proven time and time again American hunters do our country a great conservation service every year with carefully-controlled seasons and bag limits on deer, ducks, quail and other wildlife.

In Namibia they have a far different problem. There are some who believe the rhino’s horn, ground into powder, can cure cancer and can provide all types of mystical healing. Poachers use helicopters to swoop down on a rhino, shoot it with a tranquilizer stronger than heroin and then follow it until it falls. The poacher is then paid a staggering amount to use a chain saw to cut off the horn and part of the animal’s jaw for the prized protein keratin. Tragically the maimed rhino usually dies.

What’s worse is that Namibia doesn’t have the resources to stop the poachers – there are attempts by the desperate and the hungry almost every day -- so the $350,000 that a Dallas fat cat paid for the permit will all go to the Namibian Game Products Trust Fund. The hunter will still have to pay his own way to the African nation, hire a guide, and equip his own safari.

The government also reserves the right to select which animal is to be targeted – it seems the beasts are very territorial and an old bull that can no longer mate will still fight any young bulls that come around his cows. Several rhino become detrimental to the herd every year and scientists believe if they are eliminated the species may rebound.

For the record, a black rhino is about six feet tall at the shoulder, 9-to-12 feet long and averages roughly 2,500 pounds in weight. While they are very fast (up to 35 mph), they have terrible eyesight and will charge anything if they are spooked – tree stumps, termite mounds, or anything else. Rhinos also have the highest combat mortality of any animal known; 50 percent of the males and 30 percent of the females are killed fighting one another – they have no other natural predators other than man.

The Dallas Safari Club was delighted to be chosen to sell the permit but has received a heavy rash of criticism from welfare groups. About 40 protesters picketed the Saturday event and the FBI is said to be investigating death threats to some members.

“This auction is telling the world that an American will pay anything to kill a species,” Jerry Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare told the Dallas Morning News. “This is, in fact, making a spectacle of killing an endangered species.

But television’s Stephen Colbert had the best comment, suggesting that instead a permit to shoot a member of the Dallas Safari Club be auctioned instead. “It would raise a lot more money and the world wouldn’t miss the sacrificed member one bit. Thinning the club would probably also make it much stronger and give it an incentive to come up with better ideas for conservation,” he reportedly quipped.

Other comments were equally entertaining. “Texas ranchers do this all the time. When a longhorn gets too old they turn it into hamburger meat. What’s the difference,” was one response while another suggested a rhinoceros head hanging from the wall in some guy’s study was “ghoulish and barbaric. If you want to prove what a tough man you are then go out and fight without your 50-caliber rifle. Use your fists.”

If and when a hunt is arranged, the permit holder will have to pass background checks and the animal chosen “will have to be approved as beneficial to the species’ conservation for the government to allow the trophy inside U.S. borders.”

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