Namibia and South Africa want to lift a ban on hunting the rare black rhino, a move certain to draw protests from conservationists who say the species is still recovering from decades of rampant poaching.
JOHANNESBURG Namibia and South Africa want to lift a ban on hunting the rare black rhino, a move certain to draw protests from conservationists who say the species is still recovering from decades of rampant poaching.
Both countries have made submissions seeking approval for potentially lucrative black rhino hunts at next month's meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates the global trade in wild animals.
Black rhino populations have been decimated by poaching and fell in the mid-1990s to around 2,400 animals in the wild from 65,000 just two decades before.
Poachers typically hack off the horns prized in the Middle East as dagger handles and in East Asia for medicinal purposes and leave the great carcasses to rot in the sun.
The species has since recovered somewhat thanks to antipoaching measures in South Africa and Namibia as well as the development of lucrative game farming. A recent estimate put black rhino numbers at 3,600, the vast majority in South Africa and Namibia.
Namibia is seeking an annual quota of five rhinos for trophy hunters out of its estimated population of 1,134, while South Africa wants to hunt 10 of its estimated 1,200 black rhinos a year.
"Ten males per year out of a total population of approximately 1,200 would have no impact," South Africa said in its submission to the CITES Secretariat.
Black rhinos have been strictly protected by CITES since 1977. The CITES Secretariat supports the proposals, and its more than 160 member states will decide the issue by consensus at the meeting in Bangkok though there is no guarantee they will lift the hunt ban.
Conservationists say there is no reason for complacency.
"It's early days. The black rhino population is still recovering, and the trade in rhino horn continues," said Jason Bell-Leask, the southern Africa director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Namibia makes the argument that limited hunting would raise valuable conservation funds. "All revenue from hunting will be re-invested in conservation programs," it said in its submission.
Limited hunting of far more numerous white rhinos is allowed in South Africa and has certainly proved to be lucrative. Hunters pay on average between $20,000 and $25,000 for a white rhino.
"It goes purely on horn length; it is approximately $1,000 an inch, and white rhino horns average 20 to 25 inches," said Mike Cameron, a veteran professional hunting guide.
The black rhino is smaller but also rarer, so it would almost certainly cost tens of thousands of dollars to shoot one.
Both animals are in fact gray in color.
Underscoring the dangers that the animal still faces, Zimbabwe's black rhino population is believed to have halved over the past four years to about 200 amid growing lawlessness in the country.
Even some hunters believe the ban should remain in place for now.
"CITES should keep the ban in place until there is a very substantial number of these animals to ensure their survival," said Cameron. "You can kill them in five minutes, but to replace them takes a very long time."