When is a good rhino a dead rhino?
The question begets a paradoxical conundrum for most. But when the fallen beast symbolizes the emergence of the species from near extinction and the funds from said rhino are used for the betterment and preservation of the species, logic would dictate this is a good thing. In fact today, despite the despicable growth in poaching, the southern white rhinoceros exists in such large numbers as to easily sustain a hunting quota. But this conservation success story didn’t happen overnight. The creation of protected areas and breeding rhinos on private ranches by insightful politicians and dedicated conservationists, plus a cash infusion from hunters, was instrumental in bringing the white rhinoceros back from the brink. First, a little background.
In the late 1800’s, the southern white rhino was thought to be extinct, shot into oblivion by poachers selling rhino horn to markets in Asia and the Middle East, very much like poachers today. Fortunately, a small rhino population was rediscovered in Natal, South Africa, and the species rescue began. Rhinoceros security guards were posted to protect the animals from poachers. Breeding pairs were established on private ranches, and slowly, the numbers began to increase. But the single most important factor in causing the rhino population to really take off was the economic incentive to the rhino-owninglandowners provided by sport hunting.
A rhino is an expensive species to hunt, and at $35,000+ per, South African landowners were lining up at the breeder's door to bring rhino onto their properties. Then in the early 2000's South African landowners found they could generate significant annual revenue through semi-annual “dart" hunts by western clients looking to finish their big five. The economic incentive of ownership caused demand for rhino to skyrocket, breeding programs became uber-profitable, and species numbers increased dramatically. And while "dart" hunts are no longer allowed by the South African government, and even taking poaching losses into account, today white rhino numbers are mostly steady at 20,000 worldwide...more than enough rhino for a sustainable off-take of surplus (non-breeding) bulls.
So what is the takeaway? Hunters and non-hunting conservationists both want the same thing: to preserve and protect wildlife species. But in a world with 7 billion+ people, wildlife must pay its own way to survive and hunters are generally the group that finances species survival. And thank the Lord they did with the rhino, to the point where according to the conservation group World Wildlife Fund, the southern white rhino is one of the world's greatest conservation success stories; a story funded by hunters.