AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A hunter who paid $350,000 last year at a Dallas auction for a license to hunt an endangered black rhino in Namibia will be able to bring home a trophy despite protests from animal rights groups that said the sale was immoral.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said on Thursday it had found that $550,000 in proceeds generated from two planned hunts in the southern African country will go to conservation and granted permits for them, including the one sold at the Texas auction.
Animal protection groups said the decision sends the wrong message.
“When the global community is working so hard to stop people from killing rhinos for their horns, we are giving a stamp of approval to a special class of privileged elite to kill these majestic animals as a head-hunting exercise,” the Humane Society of the United States said in a statement on Thursday.
But rhinos have come under a much greater threat than that of high-priced hunts.
Poachers, many from impoverished Mozambique, in 2014 killed more than 1,200 rhinos in South Africa, home to almost all of the animals in Africa, for their horns. International criminal syndicates import the horn to Asia, where it is used in traditional medicine, South African officials said.
There are about 25,000 rhinos in Africa - 20,000 white rhinos and 5,000 black rhinos - with the majority in South Africa. Namibia is one of the other leading habitats.
Both countries allow for a handful of regulated and monitored rhino hunts each year with proceeds going to fund conservation.
Some international conservation groups have given their approval for the hunts, saying the countries trying to relieve pervasive poverty among their citizens need the money to pay for increasingly expensive rhino protection.
The Dallas Safari Club, which held the auction in January 2014 for the license to hunt the rhino in Namibia, said the hunt will help in managing the rhino population and provide an underfunded Namibian government cash in the battle to thwart poachers.
“I hope some of the naysayers will make an effort to actually understand what they were protesting,” said Ben Carter, the club’s executive director.
Rhino horn sells at street prices higher than gold in Vietnam where a belief, which has no basis in science, has grown in the past few years that the horn can cure cancer.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Eric Beech