USFWS Gives OK to Imports of Black Rhino Trophies

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) gave the green light in March for two American hunters to import one black rhino carcass each from Namibia as trophies. One hunter, Michael Luzich, had already shot a rhino—having paid the Namibian government $200,000 for the privilege—but had not yet received permission from the US government to import the carcass. Another hunter, Corey Knowlton, forked over $350,000 in January 2014 in an auction sponsored by the Dallas Safari Club for the right to gun down his own endangered rhino—for the purpose of “conserving the species.” Knowlton, however, decided to put his hunt on hold until he could be sure the USFWS would allow him to drag the body back to the United States.

Two years earlier, the USFWS issued another such permit—the first since the black rhino’s 1980 listing as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Fewer than 5,000 black rhinos remain in the wild—less than one tenth the population half a century ago—with roughly 1,750 of those residing in Namibia. Efforts to recover the species have been hindered by poachers, who sell the horn on the black market for ornamental and medicinal purposes; despite being comprised mostly of ordinary keratin, rhino horn can fetch in excess of $100,000 per pound.

The USFWS received more than 135,000 petition signatures and 15,000 public comments opposing the two latest import permits, but issued them, anyway. USFWS Director Dan Ashe even expressed enthusiastic support for Namibia’s kill-to-conserve policy. Namibia allows five male black rhinos to be hunted each year, supposedly to support conservation programs, including anti-poaching campaigns. Critics, however, claim there is thin evidence that the trophy fees are actually used to promote rhino conservation.