CNN recently covered a sanctioned black rhino hunt in Namibia by Texan Corey Knowlton, who bid US$350,000 for the license. In the story, he claims that the hunt was actually supporting conservation of the critically endangered species, as they were looking to kill an older, non-reproducing male that was consuming resources and potentially threatening younger, breeding males. The Namibian government has a list of 18 rhinos in the country (out of a total population of about 2,000) that meet the criteria.

Knowlton is targeting one of four black rhinos at the top of the government list, the ones considered "high priority threats to the herd."

Knowlton eventually caught up to and killed the animal he was targeting, and donated the meat to a local village.

CNN.com later published two opinion pieces, one in support of the hunt by Dr. Mike Knight, the Chairman of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission's African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) and the South African Development Community Rhino Management Group (SADC RMG), and one opposed to it by Jeffrey Flocken, the North America Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Knight cites black rhino-specific data in his piece, arguing that in the case of this particular species, limited hunting is actually beneficial. Flocken instead uses a wider argument, citing hunting of polar bears, elephants, and lions, among other species, and claiming that the idea of "conservation hunting" as a whole is flawed. He does not, however, directly address the situation of black rhinos.

I have evaluated each side's argument, but have not yet formed a solid opinion, which is why I'm asking here. In the specific case of the black rhino, does the science support the notion of limited elimination of older males? Are there studies that show this has led to an increase in other types of conservation efforts? Does the money spent for licenses actually go towards conservation and assistance for locals?

As a second, optional question: Are the arguments posed by Flocken against "conservation hunting" in general supported by independent research? Just thinking logically I can imagine they are, as a lot of what he says makes sense in a broader context, if not necessarily in the case of the black rhino. Is there a scientific case for limited, situation-specific hunting, or should all forms of it be discouraged?

Note: I'm asking this here instead of Skeptics because I'm looking for a scientifically-supported answer. If you think it's better suited there, let me know and I'll move it.

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    $\begingroup$ "Support" how? For instance, I think that there are different answers to different questions depending on whether you're looking at it from the perspectives of population biology ('can we remove some individuals without affecting the long-term population growth rate?'), conservation biology as a coupled human-natural system ('where does the money go?', 'what effect does this example have on poaching?'), ethics ('does this harm animal welfare?'), or aesthetics ('is this distasteful?'). Part of the issue with those two editorials seems to be that they addressing different questions. $\endgroup$ – Oreotrephes May 27 '15 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ I see no reason why you can't post it on both sites, I have crossposted to Skeptics on occasion. $\endgroup$ – March Ho May 31 '15 at 9:07
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    $\begingroup$ There are a bunch of meta posts about cross posting and it seems that the community still disagree on the question. I think however that most people think that cross posting is bad (see this meta post) $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Jun 17 '15 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ This question is still unanswered, partly because as @Oreotrephes points out, the question isn't actually clear on what its asking. Otherwise this is a nice question on a stimulating and interesting topic. $\endgroup$ – James Jul 8 '15 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ Looking at the question again, I think that someone could very easily put together a well-cited answer to the final sentence: "Is there a scientific case for limited, situation-specific hunting, or should all forms of it be discouraged?" $\endgroup$ – Oreotrephes Jul 8 '15 at 18:58

Yes it is. Besides Dr. Knights article which is very focused on the issue and describes numerous benefits, there are other sources of research that show this can be good not only for the animals but also the community. And specifically that this has worked in Namibia (where the black rhino was hunted) extremely well.

Namibia has encouraged communities to see their local animals as resources to be protected and that they can profit from. In cases of endangered species, the federal goverment abides by CITES and only allows so many to be killed. Other than that limitation communities are allowed to profit from their local animals both from trophy hunts but also tourism. This has led to a reintroduction of many of these animals (endangered and not) onto private lands. The survival and thrival of these animals is now an economic concern to the communities and land holders, and are protected as such. This has worked for the recovery of many animals in Namibia. In summary, the selling of a license to hunt one black rhino brings big profits to the community and therefore encourage the people to protect these resources.

The CITES articles are also a good resource when looking at this. It's very clear in the resolutions to allow quotas for endangered animals that it is not harming the population.

And one other paper, though it's behind a paywall, describes how South Africa's white rhino population went from fewer than 100 to over 11,000 as privatization and legal hunting were legalized.

As a side note, the wildlife conservation department where I live receives almost half its funding from hunting licenses. Since it has been in operation the deer population has gone from nearly wiped out in the state to over half a million animals.

Flocken's arguments are based on fact but are really targeted at examples of bad wildlife management rather than against the practice of conservation hunting. There is some concern that allowing the legal killing of any endangered animals will lead to more poaching, but I haven't seen any evidence in the literature of that.


Not supported by "science," but supported by logic. The bottom line is this: the rangers were GOING TO KILLER THE RHINO ANYWAY. The older male rhino was aggressive and actually killing other rhinos. So, we have three scenarios:

  • Leave the rhino, letting it kill several more rhinos.
  • Have a park ranger kill the aggressive rhino (so that one rhino dies instead of many), which costs money.
  • Kill the aggressive rhino (so that one rhino dies instead of many), but auction away the rights to someone willing to spend big money, which will go toward paying the park staff to protect the young rhinos that remain.

There are economic arguments in favor of this practice [1]. The idea of culling individuals to either maintain or increase a population is also derived from the idea of "Compensatory Mortality" and has been demonstrated for a variety of ungulates [2][3][4][5][6].

I think the major flaw of any argument against this practice is the assumption that the rhino would not have been killed if there hadn't been an auction... The rhino was already on death row. They marked it for culling because they wanted to preserve the maximum number of living, breedable rhinos... It was only a matter of how to go about doing it, and I think they made the right choice by raising funds.

P.S. I don't hunt, and I love animals. In fact, I was a little bummed about this story when I heard about it, but once I learned that the rhino was going to be killed anyway, I realized it's the best, most logical answer available.

P.P.S. Check out the Radio-Lab about this story [7]. They site that rhino populations rebounded following the creation of hunting ranches, because it gave a monetary value to the animals on ranchers' land, and they wanted to maintain that resource (by creating a breeding population).

[1] Lindsey, P.A., Rouletb,P.A., Romañach,S.S. 2007. Economic and conservation significance of the trophy hunting industry in sub-Saharan Africa. Biological Conservation. Volume 134, Issue 4. Pages 455–469

[2] Staines, B. W. 1978. The dynamics and performance of a declining population of red deer (Cervus elaphus). Journal of Zoology 184:403–419.

[3] Burnham, K. P., and D. R. Anderson. 1984. Tests of compensatory vs. additive hypothesis of mortality in mallards. Ecology 65:105–112.

[4] Peek, J. M. 1986. A review of wildlife management. PrenticeHall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA.

[5] Bartmann, R. M., G. C. White, and L. H. Carpenter. 1992. Compensatory mortality in a Colorado mule deer population. Wildlife Monographs 121:1–39.

[6] White, G. C., and R. M. Bartmann. 1998. Effect of density reduction on overwinter survival of free-ranging mule deer fawns. Journal of Wildlife Management 62:214–225.

[7] Radiolab. (2015, September 07). The Rhino Hunter [Sound recording]. Retrieved from WNYC Radio website: https://www.wnyc.org/widgets/ondemand_player/radiolab/#file=%2Faudio%2Fxspf%2F529748%2F


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