The conservation and trophy hunting perspective

By John J Jackson III

The black rhino is listed as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, (ESA).  Import is prohibited without a permit and no permit has ever before been issued for a trophy of any “endangered” listed species taken in the wild in the 40 year history of the 1973 Act.

The approval was based upon a scientific determination that the hunting enhanced the survival of the species in the wild as well as separate findings that it was not detrimental and it did not jeopardize the species; three findings in total.  It was found to enhance the survival by producing needed revenue for recovery and essential management and by directly benefitting local livelihoods which increased community support for the presence of rhino and disincentives for poaching.

Make no mistake about it, this is one instance where the USF&WS has determined that sustainable use, specifically tourist safari hunting, enhanced the survival of the species in the wild.  Conservation revenue is expected to increase substantially from the increased demand of U.S. hunters, the largest safari market.  The fixed quota and off-take will remain the same, but demand from the enlarged market is expected to increase the auction price/conservation revenue.  The quota is limited to five per year by CITES Resolution CoP16 13.5 and CoP13 Doc. 19.3. That is 4 percent of the Namibia population according to the USF&WS findings.  The Namibia population of the D. b. bicornis subspecies, the one permitted, has increased by well over 100% since 2001, which puts it over Namibia’s 10-year target.

In its enhancement finding, the FWS highlighted Namibia’s National Action Plan, its Rhino Coordinator and its “certification” process for selection of rhino to be taken (limited to post-reproductive males) as examples of its exemplary management practices.  Moreover, because aggressive males are “population limiting,” removal of post-reproduction males may lead to a “population increase and greater survival.”  Fifty percent of male rhino die from fighting wounds and thirty percent of females.  Translocation of surplus, post-reproductive males frequently culminates in their death and that of productive cows, calves and productive bulls at the translocation site.  The hunt price was $225,000 U.S. Dollars of which $175,000 went into Namibia’s Game Products Trust Fund that funds Namibia’s rhino program, including community programs to incentivize the local people.  The rhino is expected to become the most expensive trophy in the world.

The African Rhino Specialist Group (ARSG) of SSC/IUCN has counseled Namibia from the inception and supported the FWS’s enhancement determination.  The FWS cited in its determination that the program conforms with SULi’s Guiding Principles on Trophy Hunting as a Tool for Creating Conservation Incentives, IUCN SSC 2012. I was able to act as the pro bono legal representative of the permit applicant.

The enhancement finding is so unique that I do not believe it will serve as a precedent for other species.  Other efforts have been disappointing.  For example, I spearheaded the attempted importation of endangered listed Canadian wood bison and Suleiman markhor of Torghar without permitting success, though a District Court did overturn the denial of the wood bison permits.  Instead, I was successful with the alternative strategy of downlisting the wood bison from “endangered” to “threatened” which permits trophy importation.  A Final Rule on Conservation Force’s petition to downlist the Suleiman markhor of the STEP Program in the Torghar Hills of Pakistan is expected in July.  Conservation Force was successful in establishing the U.S. import of flare-horned markhor a few years ago.  Unlike the straight-horned markhor it is only listed as threatened.  In that instance the price jumped from $45,000 to $150,000.

John J Jackson III is the President of Conservation Force, an IUCN member organization, and a member of SULi. He was originally successful with establishing the import of elephant trophies in the early 1990s.

The rural community perspective

By Brian Jones

The granting of an import permit for a black rhino hunting trophy by the US Fish &Wildlife Service is good news for rural communities in Namibia. It shows that good conservation practice will be recognized and that communities can gain from their conservation efforts. Black rhino are being conserved in state-run protected areas and on private land in Namibia, but there is also an important population on communal land, particularly within communal area conservancies. The conservancies are areas of land within which communities have been given user rights over wildlife.

Since the devastating poaching of black rhino in north western Namibia the 1980s, the illegal killing of rhino has been reduced to almost zero. There have been only a handful of poaching cases over the past 15 years and the rhino population on communal land has more than doubled. While the conservation authorities and NGOs have stepped up monitoring and anti-poaching activities, there is common agreement that without community commitment to conservation it would have been difficult to achieve this level of success.

The communal area conservancies in north-western Namibia are able to gain income from photographic tourism activities as well as from strictly controlled safari hunting. This income is used for a variety of community benefits including communal projects, household cash payments, transport to clinics in remote areas, support to the elderly and human-wildlife conflict mitigation. The income and other benefits, such as meat from community hunts and trophy hunting, help to provide incentives for rural farmers to accept large and dangerous wildlife species such as black rhino, lion and elephant on their land. 

The conservancies also plough back a portion of their income into conservation. They employ game guards that help to monitor black rhino movements and distribution. They contribute staff members and vehicles to annual game counts in partnership with conservation officials and NGO personnel. The conservancies also set aside land exclusively for wildlife and tourism. One conservancy tourism establishment has a highly successful rhino tracking activity for guests and a community owned tourism concession has a high-end tourist camp that is also based on specialist rhino tracking using community members as trackers.

This conservation effort by local communities has been recognized by the Namibian government which trans-locates black rhino from state-run protected areas to conservancies as part of an official rhino custodianship programme. Even if the black rhino are not hunted on communal land the bulk of the hunting fee goes into the Game Products Trust Fund, which among other things, provides grants to conservancies to assist their conservation activities.

Namibia is well aware of the terrible poaching of rhino taking place in neighbouring South Africa and that the focus may shift one day to Namibia. However, ensuring that communities have an incentive to conserve black rhino and are committed to stopping poaching will be one of the key strategies the Namibian authorities use to try to combat rhino poaching.

Brian Jones is an Environment & Development Consultant based in Windhoek, Namibia