African black rhinoceros (CNN)
A Dallas conservation group's auction of a rare license to hunt an endangered black rhino in Africa has outraged conservationists, leading to death threats against the auction's organizer.
The Dallas Safari Club plans to auction off the license Saturday night, hoping to raise as much as $1 million for conservation efforts.
Criticism has come from groups including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which said the sale is a case of letting rich hunters buy a thrill at the cost of a rhino's life. About 4,800 black rhinos are believed to be living worldwide, according to the World Wildlife Federation. The Namibian tourism ministry says about 1,750 live in that nation.
"They need to be protected, not sold to the highest bidder," Jeffrey Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare told CNN. "It also sends a dangerous message that these iconic and disappearing animals are worth more as dead trophies to be mounted and hung on a wall in a Texas mansion than living in the wild in Africa."
The Namibian government manages the population of black rhinos and grants about three hunting licenses a year, to allow the culling of older, less healthy animals, the club says.
"I think what it is, to be honest, is a lot of people are just uninformed," the club's executive director, Ben Carter, said in an interview with KERA, a public radio station in Dallas. "They don't know anything about how the world works out there in the wild."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has endorsed the auction, saying limited culling of males too old to breed can boost the overall population by reducing fighting among other males and by lowering juvenile mortality. Namibia uses money from annual auctions to fund black rhino counts, improve investigation of crimes against rhinos and trace rhino horn stolen by poachers.
That rationale was mocked by 90-year-old game-show host and animal-rights activist Bob Barker in a letter released by PETA.
"As an older male myself, I must say that this seems like a rather harsh way of dealing with senior citizens," Barker wrote.
Carter said he and his family have received death threats after the sale was publicized. The FBI confirmed that it is investigating alleged threats against multiple club members, KERA reported.
A petition on MoveOn.org to stop the sale had drawn 1,871 signatures by Saturday afternoon.
"We have to be the dumbest creatures on this planet if we believe this is a good thing to do,'' Wanda Hodge of Marion, Ky., wrote on MoveOn.org. "It makes me sick to my stomach."
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