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Black Rhino Auctioned for $350K in the Name of Conservation

Texas hunting club says they sold rhino to save other rhinos and their homes.

Should we kill in the name of conservation? Individual animals are not disposable commodities.

We live in a troubled and wounded world in which humans continue to dominate and relentlessly kill numerous nonhuman animals (animals). 

A Texas hunting club recently auctioned off an endangered black rhino purportedly to save other black rhinos and their homes in Namibia. The Dallas Safari Club says, "Namibian wildlife officials will accompany the auction winner through Mangetti National Park where the hunt will occur, 'to ensure the correct type of animal is taken.'" This is not a very comforting thought. 

This sale, in which an animal is objectified and treated like a disposable commodity, raises many questions about how we try to save other species. One major question is, "Should we kill in the name of conservation?" People disagree on what is permissible and what is not. My take and that of compassionate conservation is this is not an acceptable trade-off. (Please see "Ignoring Nature No More: Compassionate Conservation at Work", Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservationand Forbes interview for more on compassionate conservation.) The life of every individual matters.

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The world is in dire need of healing and we must revise some of the ways in which we attempt to coexist with other animals. Some of these methods center on heinous ways of killing them "in the name of conservation" or "to foster coexistence". Compassionate conservation stresses that the life of every individual matters and trading off an individual for the good of their own or another species is not an acceptable way to save species. And, there doesn't seem to be much evidence that it works in any significant way.

Black rhinos do indeed find themselves trying to avoid humans out to kill them, but in Namibia only 10 rhinos have been killed since 2006. Of course, this is 10 too many, but far fewer than have been killed in neighboring South Africa where around 1,000 were killed in 2012 alone.

"To destroy nature is not to conserve nature. To mount the head of a wild animal in your trophy room is not conservation, it is repugnant."

The above quotation comes from an essay in examiner.com called "Must conservation of wildlife including killing wildlife". It was based on a 60 Minutes report titled "Hunting animals to save them?" While it dealt with wildlife ranches in Texas where people can pay a small fortune to kill various animals in canned hunts, it does raise important questions about killing in the name of conservation. Some other valuable snippets worth deep consideration include:

"If we want to conserve a population of, for instance, people native to a particular section of our country, would we kill a few to conserve the others? Isn’t that saying the group is more important than the individual? Isn’t it saying the individual gives up his or her rights to life because he or she belongs to a particular group, a particular species?"

"Each life—human animal and nonhuman animal—is an individual with an individual personality. Take a group of purebred puppies, for example—they may all look the same but they aren’t. They are their own individual beings with individual traits and personalities. Wildlife are individuals with their own individual traits and personalities. To say one is more deserving to live than another, in the name of conservation, bastardizes the word."

Killing animals to save others sets a bad example and a regrettable precedent and is not the way to foster peaceful coexistence. When people say they kill animals because they love them this makes me feel very uneasy. I'm glad they don't love me.

Cruelty can't stand the spotlight and it is important that news about the sorts of activities discussed above be widely disseminated and openly discussed. That major media is covering them is a step in the right direction.

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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