Hunting is an integral part of Montana culture. From a practice lending itself to survival, to the controlled monitoring of wild game populations, hunting has always been a necessity for places like Montana. Many residents of this state hunt, and those that don’t typically accept the practice. One doesn’t have to look far, however, to find fervent and enthusiastic opposition to the tradition.
Earlier this month, the African nation of Namibia sold a tag for a black rhinoceros. The tag was sold through the Dallas Safari Club at auction for $350,000, purchased by professional hunter Corey Knowlton. Knowlton experienced backlash almost immediately, including death threats against himself and his family. The exuberant response from those that oppose Knowlton and the sale of the tag can be best explained as a result of ignorance. When people do not understand something, they base their responses and decisions on how something makes them feel. The very idea of harvesting a majestic creature one would normally see in a National Geographic special causes people to skip the “why” of the matter and segway straight into an unsupported response.
To the uninitiated, hunting can seem like a barbaric, self-affirming act, an unnecessary and wasteful relic of the past. This could not be further from the truth. Legal hunting, in which a governing entity controls the process, is needed for the continuation of healthy populations, whether they are over or underpopulated. Animal scientists carefully observe and record the behaviors of species and give these findings to an office delegated to such affairs. In the United States, departments such as Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service typically control these matters.
These groups then decide what action needs to be taken to maintain healthy populations. In many instances, diseased or unstable animals are marked to be removed from the population. In other instances, tags are released to reduce overpopulation, ensuring adequate food supply and healthy species continuation. The process then shifts to the individual. For the hunter, the stalking and taking of an animal is often a deeply significant event. Hunters that waste the meat of their kill are often penalized by law. Hunting without a permit is also extremely illegal, and is known as poaching.
Why then would Knowlton and the Namibian government have a desire to kill a rare and endangered black rhino? Wouldn’t that be counterintuitive? Although the black rhino is an endangered species, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora grants Namibia 500 tags annually. These tags are given to remove aging, non-reproducing or unstable animals from the population. Tags that are not filled by hunters are taken by employees of the Namibian government.
It is clear the hunting of a black rhino, authorized not only by the Namibian government, but the international community, is not absurd or somehow damaging. Yet, the outrage remains. Prominent groups such as the Humane Society and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have expressed their anger. The Humane Society petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose approval is needed under the Endangered Species Act, to block Knowlton’s import of the animal into the United States.
This isn’t the first time a professional hunter has received intense criticism for legal and helpful hunts. Last November, Melissa Bachman, no relation to the Minnesota Representative, received similar criticism for a lawful harvest of a male African lion. In that instance, the animal was approved to be harvested by the South African government, the meat and hide were given to locals, the money paid for the tag went towards conservation efforts and the animal taken was likely a danger to either a human population or other wildlife.
There is a painful disconnect between true conservationists and those that oppose them, and it is an unnecessary one. What authority does the Humane Society have to decree to nations such as Namibia and South Africa how to conduct their affairs? Even if hunting big game in these nations was harmful, these groups telling other nations how to manage their animal populations is baseless. Additionally, this opposition shows an ignorance of animal science. Instead of understanding and implying proven methods for conserving wildlife, anti-hunting activists base their opinions on irrational emotion.
Regardless, Knowlton will carry on with his hunt and the black rhino population in Namibia will be better for it. Knowlton sums it up best himself: “[The critics] don’t know who I am. They don’t know what I’m about. They don’t even understand the process.” Here’s hoping all who claim to love wildlife around the world will prove it, by educating themselves on how to best preserve it.