Today in Hanoi, Vietnam, buses are carrying the message that buying, selling, and transporting rhino horn is illegal – a crime punishable by up to seven years in prison in that country. The messages are part of Vietnam’s National Rhino Horn Demand Reduction Campaign, initiated and implemented by the government of Vietnam in cooperation with The HSUS’ international arm, Humane Society International. This multi-faceted communications campaign, which began in August 2013, has reached millions of Vietnamese citizens, with a special focus on messaging to young people about the importance of not consuming rhino horn products. With only about 28,000 rhinos of five species left in the wild, and millions of potential rhino horn users, reducing demand for horn is the key to saving rhinos from extinction. Indeed, the poachers only kill the rhinos because they make money from it. No demand, no dollars.
Our constructive, strategic activities to protect rhinos are in stark contrast with the tactics of the Dallas Safari Club. On Saturday night, the club auctioned off a permit to hunt an endangered black rhino in Namibia, which is home to fewer than 2,000 of these prehistoric-looking beasts. The winner of the auction agreed to pay $350,000 for the right to kill a black rhino, something highly desired by trophy hunters who seek to add the rarest animals to their trophy collections. Because the black rhino is listed as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), the winner will need to get an import permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to bring the trophy home.
The ESA makes it clear that such permits should only be granted when the import will enhance the survival of the species in the wild. Once the winner applies for the import permit, there will be a 30-day comment period. We plan to provide evidence to the FWS that trophy hunting a member of a critically endangered species is harmful to that species. We invite you to sign a petition that we will submit along with our comments showing that people do not support issuance of the import permit. The U.S. government needs to understand that the American public does not support the Orwellian idea of killing endangered species to save them – even if it comes with a big cash pay-out. Where will it end? Will a Safari Club International (SCI) member offer $1 million for the opportunity to shoot an orangutan, $2 million for an Asian elephant, and maybe even more for a Siberian tiger? The first rule of protecting the rarest animals in the world is to protect each living member of that species.
Groups like HSI are putting money into rhino protection – in the range states and in the states where rhino horn is sold, and we aren’t demanding an opportunity to shoot, capture, snare, terrorize, or baste a rhino. We just want them to live unmolested, protected from human harm and spared from sacrifice for any purpose – spiritual or material.
The black rhino auction and hunt provides a window into the world of competitive trophy hunting – where SCI members are in a global race against one another to rack up more trophies, of rarer and rarer animals, in order to gain more recognition within the pantheon.
Earlier this week, these trophy hunters got a gift from the Congress. Tucked with the $1.1 trillion spending package was a rider allowing for three endangered antelope species –scimitar-horned oryx, addax and dama gazelle – to be killed in captive hunts here in the United States without any oversight. These “canned hunts” are the antithesis of fair chase, where shooters kill captive animals for trophies, often spending thousands of dollars to do so.
While the FWS currently allows captive hunting of endangered antelope, the agency requires any would-be hunters to obtain a federal permit, and these permits are only issued when the killing is found to enhance the survival of the species in the wild. It’s a not-so-subtle attempt to shoot a hole in the ESA, for the benefit of a handful of trophy hunters. The fight to protect endangered species continues against many perpetrators, including competitive trophy hunters who value animals more dead than alive. People like these apparently gain some measure of self-worth by filling their dens with frozen faces of the world’s most glorious, and often rarest, mammals.