First Black Rhino Import Permit Granted
June 2013, Volume 11-3

On April 4th, the USF&WS issued the first Endangered Species Act (ESA) import permit for a 34 year old black rhino hunting trophy that was taken in Waterberg Plateau National Park in Namibia in October, 2009.  It will be the first import of a black rhino hunting trophy since the black rhino was listed as “endangered” in 1980, 33 years ago. It is the first trophy import permit for any ESA “endangered” listed species taken in the wild since the ESA was passed in 1973. The black rhino is listed on Appendix I of CITES and as “critically endangered” on IUCN’s Red List. That said, both CITES and the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group support the trophy trade. Though ESA endangered listed bontebok are importable from South Africa, they have been treated as a “captive bred” exception. Like this one, the permits will be processed on a permit-by-permit basis. We expect the conservation revenue arising from the hunting will more than double from the addition of the U.S. market, the largest market by far. The following will give readers an understanding of the positive development for rhino.

First and foremost, this is about saving the black rhino. The goal of the Namibia conservation strategy is not the hunting. The hunter’s rights to his trophy are also not a factor that is considered by the USF&WS when making such a determination. The goal is the conservation of the species. This is a form of safari hunting or tourist hunting that has come to be called “conservation hunting.”  Conservation hunting is regulated hunting strategically designed to benefit a species in special need by generating essential conservation revenue like management revenue and stimulating local incentives to value, tolerate and support the animal. Being a game animal gives the rhino a “leg up” or extra value to authorities and locals as well as operating revenue in the struggle for survival. The permitting is about using regulated hunting as a tool or force for conservation. This is and of itself important to all interests except extremists who readily admit they would prefer that animals cease to exist rather than be sustainably used or produced when there is any use.

Namibia has the foremost black rhino conservation program and plan in the world. It is the real champion and deserves to be richly rewarded, particularly when the reward is more revenue for essential management actions.

This was a big and important step for USF&WS that is to be congratulated. That said it must be understood that this is not a blanket approval. Although it is a precedent and recognition of the benefits, each and every future application will be individually handled and will have to undergo three (3) levels of fact-finding and decision making. Be sure, this is a discretionary area for the FWS who made the right decision in this instance. Still, it did not just happen by accident. It was the right thing to do.

June_p11FWS must determine that the purpose of the import is (1) not detrimental and second, the permitted activity (2) does not jeopardize the species. These two separate determinations must be made by two separate divisions, the Division of Scientific Authority and the Division of Management Authority with Division of Scientific Authority concurrence. The third and most important determination has to be made by the Division of Management Authority that the import will actually “enhance or benefit the propagation or survival of the species” in the wild. The determinations are way beyond whether the take is within sustainable limits. This is about stepping up the program and saving and securing the species.

The hunter was literally the first American to take a rhino in Namibia since Namibia was granted its quota of five per year by CITES CoP13 in 2004. He is a very experienced dangerous game hunter who has taken all the Big Five (not black rhino) a number of times. Satisfied of the conservation value and biological necessity of the hunting, he took his chances with whether he could ever import his trophy. He says of all the Big Five it was one of his best hunts. It was a fair chase hunt and truly dangerous. Conservation Force started representing the permit applicant as pro bono legal counsel for the good of the cause, ourselves convinced of the necessity of the hunting.

See also: Global Animal

Source: World Conservation Force Bulletin, May 2013 (shortened)