The Price of A Life
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"Everyone Wants to See A Rhino… Not Everyone Wants to Shoot One."
Conservation does not involve expediting death for sport.
I had always believed no monetary amount could be place on a life. To the Dallas Safari Club (DSC), an international group of hunters, the price of a Black rhinoceros is $350,000, the highest bid to hunt one in Namibia. In October of 2013, the DSC announced an auction for a permit to hunt an endangered Black rhino, where that amount is to be donated to the Namibian government's Black rhino conservation efforts. According to CNN, of the world's remaining 5,000 Black rhinos, 1,700 live in Namibia.
According to the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), dedicated to the survival of the world's "'magnificent [rhino] species' for future generations' [where] protecting [them] ensures the survival of many other species that share their habitat'" through conservation and research, currently, there are five species and 11 subspecies of rhinos living. Thousands of years ago, rhinos were more diverse and widespread among North America, Europe, Africa and Asia; presently, two species live in Africa (Black and White rhinos), and three species live in Asia (Greater One-Horned, Javan, and Sumatran rhinos). "The surviving rhinos are precious representatives of the glorious heritage and history of the rhino family on our planet."
There are four subspecies of Black rhinos, who are semi-social and territorial; the females and subadults are generally social, as the bulls are typically solitary. The Black rhino generally lives in grasslands, savannahs, and tropical bush lands, living approximately 30-35 years in the wild, and over 45 years in captivity. The Black rhino has a prehensile upper lip, adapted for grasping and holding leaves and branches of shrubs and trees; it is this adaptation which is the Black rhinos' most distinguishing characteristic.
The Black rhino suffered a drastic decline within the last century, where the population decreased by 96 percent between 1970 and 1992. In 1970, approximately 65,000 Black rhinos were living in Africa; by 1993, only 2,300 were surviving in the wild. The current estimate is 5,055 (International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, Rhino Specialist Group, 2013), considered critically endangered. "Black rhinos remain victims of heavy and sophisticated poaching activity [where] The highest priorities for safeguarding this species are to bolster anti-poaching activities and to maintain intensive management of wild populations."
When I initially saw CNN's headline, "Winner of Black Rhino Hunting Auction: My $350,000 Will Help Save the Species," I had hoped the winner would donate the $350,000 to save the Black rhino, without hunting one, as the actual auction item was the permit. Having possession of the permit, he/she has the right to use, or not use it. Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the nation's largest organization in animal protection, concurs, observing in United Press International (UPI), a leading global provider of critical information to media, businesses, governments and researchers, via National Geographic News, "' if they were multimillionaires and they were serious about helping rhinos, they could give money to help rhinos and not shoot one along the way." Perhaps I was na?ve to believe "save" is defined as, "to rescue or deliver from danger or harm," and "to preserve or guard from injury, destruction, or loss," defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
According to CNN, in January of 2014, the winner of the auction was "outed," Corey Knowlton, an avid hunter who has hunted over 120 species spanning almost every continent, yet Knowlton describes himself as a "passionate conservationist," which confused me, and the majority of the people who has learned of this hunt. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines conservation as the "careful preservation and protection of something," such as animals, plants, and natural resources, particularly through "planned management' to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect." CNN continues, Knowlton wants to "experience the black rhino' believ[ing] in the cycle of life." When has hunting for sport become a form of preservation and protection, or part of the cycle of life?
Stephen Colbert, of The Colbert Report, astutely observes the ridiculousness of this "conservation" effort during his "The Word" segment, which aired late October 2013. Colbert begins by stating there are approximately 5,000 Black rhinos left in the world, but "Luckily folks, [The Dallas Safari Club] has stepped forward with a bold conservation plan' sav[ing] the black rhino by auctioning off the chance to shoot one. It's like that old saying: if you love something set it free, then when it has a bit of a head start, open fire'"
CNN accounts, Pacelle, worries this type of "conservation" will "inspire hunters to pay millions of dollars for the chance to kill orangutans, elephants, or tigers' [when] The first rule of protecting the rarest animals in the world is to protect each living member of that species." Jeff Flocken, North American Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which saves individual animals, animal populations and habitats throughout the world, concurs; what is alarming is the hunting "'sends a dangerous message that these iconic and disappearing animals are worth more as dead trophies to be mounted on a wall in a Texas mansion than living in the wild in Africa." Colbert agrees with his quip, "The more you shoot, the rarer it gets!"
CNN continues, the justification for the hunt is that the Namibian government has identified the Black rhinos who are viable candidates to be hunted: those that are old, incapable of breeding, and considered a dangerous threat to younger animals. Knowlton further justifies, "why not let a hunter pay a massive amount of money to take out a threat to the rest of the species?" Knowlton's claims contradict his claim of being a "passionate conservationist." Most conservationists would agree that perhaps, some animals are a danger to their own species, and there are killings. However, those are occurrences of nature; no human intervention is involved in expediting death. Knowlton continues, "As much as I would love them all to live forever, they are going to die." Animal advocates, nor conservationists, expedite death for sport.
According to The LA Times, opposition to this hunt was voiced, even by celebrities, such as Bob Barker, former host of The Price is Right. Barker released an online letter to the DSC via People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which focuses its attention on the areas which the largest number of animals suffer the most intensely, "The rhino your organization' [has chosen]' is an older 'non-breeding' male who has apparently been deemed expendable. As an older male myself, I must say that this seems like a rather harsh way of dealing with senior citizens." William Shatner tweeted, "I think that separating the animal to allow new life and old life to continue is a better move. I'm no expert on this; but I feel it's wrong."
The IRF protects threatened rhino populations in situ (in nature, or the wild), also supporting the management of, and research on, captive populations in efforts to improve success for long term survival of all rhino species, ex situ (in captivity). One program to help in the survival of the Black rhino is the Zimbabwe Lowveld Rhino Program, which provides management, monitoring, and veterinary assistance, focusing on translocation operations from vulnerable areas, placing them in more secure areas, resulting in the increase of Black rhino numbers.
As the IFR continues, Zimbabwe is the home to the world's fourth largest Black rhino population, the first being South Africa. South Africa faced an increase in poaching during 2007 to 2009, where approximately one-fourth of the country's rhinos were slaughtered. The revival of the poaching was driven primarily by Asian markets, such as Vietnam, where rhino horn is used to treat symptoms of overindulgence of alcohol and rich foods, as well as a cure for life-threatening diseases. Rhino horn is also purchased as gifts as a symbol of status. In China, powdered rhino horn is used to reduce fevers. According to CNN, the major threat to rhinos is the poachers across Africa, as the horns are lucrative on the black market, "fetch[ing] up to $60,000 per kilogram, putting its value somewhere between gold and pure cocaine."
The IFR continues, in response to the declining Black rhino numbers, field teams moved over 50 Black rhinos out of particularly vulnerable areas, in early 2008. "These translocations, combined with improved security, have resulted in a decline in poaching such that births now outnumber losses and the population is again growing' [where] Approximately 80% of Zimbabwe's black rhinos survive in the Lowveld conservancies," large tracts of land which operate as wild-life based businesses helping to safeguard not only the rhinos, but also a myriad of threatened species.
The Lowveld Rhino Trust (LRT) is the IRF's partner organization in Zimbabwe, which supports anti-poaching efforts of private conservancies, tracks and monitors the rhinos on a continual basis to ensure their safety, works with conservancy partners to rescue, rehabilitate, and return injured rhinos and orphaned young rhinos into the wild, protects rhinos from poachers through translocation operations, and works with the local communities to cultivate support in rhino conservation.
In rescuing orphaned rhino calves, whose mothers were lost to poachers, the LRT hand-rears the calves, creating a temporary sanctuary, with the goal of weaning them in order for them to be returned to the wild. In August of 2011, one-year-old Bebrave's mother and older sister were killed by poachers; seven-month-old Long Playing's mother was killed in 2012; Bebrave and Long Playing were rescued into the sanctuary. Bebrave had settled into his new home, content with a large tractor tire and an orphaned eland (an antelope), Sparky, for company, when Long Playing arrived. Bebrave was excited to have a new playmate, when his new companion's pen was opened. Long Playing was half Bebrave's size, but soon began to chase him, as the two became inseparable.
In 2013, after having their morning breakfast, Bebrave and Long Playing were tranquilized, and their ears were notched for identification, as Bebrave was fitted with a radio transmitter for post-release monitoring. Sparky watched over the fence, unaware, that he, too, would be released with Bebrave and Long Playing. "A quiet watering hole was chosen so that the two young rhinos could establish new home ranges without disruption' the rhinos join[ed] up with each other quickly before quietly walking off down the road'"
The LRT relocated 15 Black rhinos from areas of high poaching to secure habitats in 2012, in addition to monitoring units yielding 38 rhino births, including the 100th Black rhino born in the Bubye Valley Conservancy, where Black rhinos were first introduced in 2002. This population has gradually been growing at an annual rate of between five and ten percent, creating optimism for the species' future in Zimbabwe, with the hope that "it may take only five years for the next 100 calves to be born."
As illustrated, efficient and successful conservation efforts can be, and most often, achieved, without killing. Pacelle observes in UPI, via National Geographic News, "The first rule of protecting a rare species is to limit the human [related] killing." Eco-tourism is a suggested means of raising funds for conservation efforts, as the funds originate from people willing to pay to see endangered animals living in their natural environment. As CNN cites, several groups, such as the IFAW, argue for the rhinos to promote wildlife viewing, charging people for the experience of seeing one of these majestic beings "up close in the wild." According to National Geographic News, Flocken observes, "The value of photographic and wildlife-viewing safaris far outweighs the value of trophy hunting' Everyone wants to see a rhino when they go to Africa, but not everyone wants to go and shoot one."
To Marcia Fargnoli, Chief Executive Officer of the Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia, which works with the government to combat poachers, "I really believe every rhino counts," according to CNN; the Save the Rhino Trust attempted to convince the Namibian government to cease the issuance of these hunting permits. For Knowlton, "'if the hunt doesn't go perfectly it could also be one of the worst experiences of his life."
Imagine how that Black rhinoceros feels.
For more information, please visit: Rhinos.org
Louisa Lew, Contributing Writer: Louisa Lew graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor’s Degree in the Liberal Arts, double majoring in Political Science and Film. She is currently a Freelance Copy Editor and Writer, living in Seattle with her two dogs. (more...)