Science Interviews


Mon, 20th Jan 2014

Hunting the Black Rhino

Mike Knight, Chairman IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group

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Last weekend the American hunting group, the Dallas Safari Club raised $350,000 by Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), picture taken at Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzaniaselling a hunting license to shoot one of only 5,000 black rhino’s remaining in the wild.  

You might think that conservationists and animal rights groups would be up in arms about this, and unsurprisingly some are. But, the International Union for Conservation of Nature are supporting the sale. Dominic Ford was joined from South Africa by Mike Knight, the chair of the IUCN rhino specialist group….

Mike - Obviously we're facing the threat at the moment from escalating poaching that's been driven by the demand for horn in the Far East. Last year, we lost 1,004 animals. Most of which in South Africa, but I think obviously, the focus of this discussion would be looking at Namibia who have lost only two animals.

Dominic - So, given that there are only 5,000 of these rhinos remaining in the wild, why are you supporting the sale of a hunting license to actually kill one of them?

Mike - Well, the whole thing around rhinos and particularly rhinos, these hunting applications were focused primarily on males which we've actually coined as surplus males and it's primarily the old geriatric males. These males are often involved in fighting. In many cases, females are killed, and in Namibia for instance, up to 30% of animals that are lost in Namibia are a result of fighting. In many cases, that's females.

The last thing you ever want to lose in a population that is of that size is to lose the breeding stock and to lose the females. So, what we have to do in a situation like this is try and make sure we do the best for males. Putting the males onto other land or alternative land has huge cost implications. It’s also taking away the opportunities for breeding populations. So really, the best way to turn this around is to actually use these surplus males and remember, there's only 5 animals given in South Africa and Namibia as part of the hunting quota and that money goes directly back into conservation. So yes, they are in some ways sacrificial, but to the same extent, they have great financial returns towards rhino conservation. The case in Namibia, that money was ploughed 100% back into conservation.

Dominic - How does that surplus males come about? Is that behavioural?

Mike - It’s behavioural. It’s black rhino. Black rhinos are notably aggressive. At the moment, in many of the populations, they are distorted towards males and populations that have the larger proportion of breeding males don't perform as well as those where the proportion of males are less. So, what we try and do in many situations is skew the sex ratio in favour of females to get them breeding as fast as we possibly can.

And then the question is, what do you do with these surplus males? In the case in Namibia, the males that they're actually talking about are ones that have often been kicked out of Etosha National Park. In many cases, they've put these animals back into the park, but in 90% of the cases, those animals have either been killed or they've killed other animals. So, the best thing is actually is right. Let’s try and get a conservation benefit from this and that conversation benefit is in the form of rands or in dollars which goes directly into conservation.

Dominic - What sort of reaction have you had from the international community to this decision to sell this license?

Mike - I think, a lot of it comes around possibly from ignorance, not understanding the context in which we’re talking about. As you know, Southern Africa follows a sustainable use approach to the wildlife and you can see that in the amount of wildlife and the amount of land set for conservation. So, in the Southern African context, we've had an outcry in many ways to say, “Yes, the animal could’ve been auctioned for a million, but went for 350,000. What happened to the other 650,000 that should’ve gone directly into conservation?” That is money lost to rhino conservation.

Dominic - Very quickly, what will you spend that money on?

Mike - It goes directly into anti-poaching. Into training, into monitoring and improving the situation for rhino conservation.


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