Last October the Dallas Safari Club announced its controversial plan to auction off the right to hunt and kill an endangered black rhino in Namibia, a country that is legally allowed to cull up to five rhinos per year. The club hoped raise up to $1 million through the auction, funds it says will go toward rhino conservation — but the planned auction was met with worldwide protests from animal lovers and conservation groups. All the same, the auction took place last week, and the hunt sold for $350,000.
The winner, whose name was not immediately made public, has now come forward. Professional hunter and hunting guide Corey Knowlton told Dallas news station website WFAA that he didn't even plan to bid during the auction, but the other hunters who were originally expected to bid all backed out amid the public criticism.
"John Jackson of Conservation Force came up to me and said, look, Corey, we'd like you to bid on this," Knowlton admitted. Jackson is the lawyer and hunting advocate who "facilitated" the auction and who also represented hunter David K. Reinke, who hunted a black rhino in Namibia in 2009 and last year was allowed to import the trophy into the U.S. — the first such import in 33 years.
Knowlton told WFAA that he was looking forward to "experiencing" the black rhino, which he oddly enough called "the most dangerous animal that you can probably hunt" (even though the hunt will target an older male and the hunter will be guided directly to the pre-chosen animal). Interestingly, this may not actually be Knowlton's first rhino kill. His bio on his company website says he has hunted "the big five in Africa," which traditionally refers to lions, elephants, cape buffalos, leopards and rhinos.
Even before Knowlton publicly revealed himself as the auction winner, his name had leaked out. He told CNN that he has been receiving death threats, and he is talking with the FBI and private security "to keep my children from being skinned alive and shot at."
Although the death of one non-reproductive male probably won't hurt the black rhino population, and the funds could aid in conservation in Namibia, the auction also presents a mixed message for this endangered species, more than 1,000 of which were killed by poachers in 2013. The hunt "promotes the economic axiom that scarcity equals value when dealing with living species," Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare wrote at National Geographic. "If an animal like the rare black rhinoceros is worth the most with a price on its head, what possible incentive does this provide range countries and local people to move the species toward recovery when the biggest buck can be made short-term by selling permits to kill them to the highest bidders?"
You can watch Knowlton's full interview below: