South Africa will be allowed to (almost) double the number of black rhinos (Diceros bicornis) killed for sport each year after a motion passed at this year's CITES conference.
The controversial ruling will boost the total number of black rhinos that can be legally hunted from five individuals to 0.5 percent of the South African population. This would take the annual quota up to nine, according to today's figures.
The country won the vote after saying the money raised from trophy hunting will be put towards conservation efforts to help the species, which is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. They have also said that adult males would be targeted to protect breeding females and agreed not to fulfill that quota if rhino levels fall below a specific level. (Though they are yet to say what that level would be.)
But not everybody is overjoyed by the prospect. The African vote was split, with countries including Kenya saying that if illegal poaching is also taken into consideration, we could end up losing close to half the black rhino population increase every year as a result. NGOs and wildlife organizations, like the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), have also opposed the move.
However, South Africa did manage to win the support of a bunch of countries, including Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Canada as well as the European Union (EU). Tom Milliken of wildlife monitoring group Traffic told The Guardian that if managed properly, the additional trophy hunting could be a positive action – actually helping to increase black rhino numbers by removing older males, who could prevent younger males from breeding.
"It is a positive: you are basically preventing bar-room brawls and getting faster reproduction rates going," he said.
According to the International Rhino Foundation, there are between 5,000 and 5,500 black rhinos alive in the wild today – far fewer than the 65,000 or so that roamed Africa in 1970 but more than double the number there were in 1993 when populations fell to a historic low.
The good news is that numbers do seem to be increasing, albeit slowly. However, they still remain critically endangered and are at great risk of poaching, their horn a prized commodity on the black market that can fetch upwards of thousands of dollars. It is unclear how exactly this new motion could affect population numbers.
Rhino trophy hunting in South Africa is just one of the topics being discussed at 2019's CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) conference, which is taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, between August 17 and August 28.
CITES is a convention made of 183 parties formed in the 1960s to monitor trade in wild plants and animals. Today, it offers varying levels of protection to over 35,000 species. Aside from trophy hunting, members will or have been discussing the ivory trade, the market in exotic pets, and the management of elephant populations.
[H/T: The Guardian]