It's the kind of debate that has surrounded the hunting community for ages.

On first glance, the idea that hunters act as the best conservationists seems hypocritical. After all, we spend much of our time trying to kill the animals we are supposedly working to protect. If we were truly trying to help a species, the naysayers argue, shouldn't we want to save every animal we can?

Most biologists advocate the use of hunters as a management tool. They know a healthy herd is a right-sized herd. With proper guidance, hunters keep a population in a healthy balance.

Nowhere is that argument getting more attention than in southwestern Africa, where Namibia is planning to auction the right to hunt an endangered black rhinoceros. That's right. There are just 5,055 of the animals left on the planet and a hunter will soon make that number one animal lower. Even more, he'll likely pay several hundred thousand dollars to do it.

When the famed Dallas Safari Club gets together for its annual convention next week, one of the highlights of the event will be the bidding for the right to shoot a nearly extinct species. The government of Namibia chose the club to help make the hunt a success. It's the first time Namibia has ever sold a black rhino hunting permit outside its borders.


The goal behind the idea is twofold. First, the country expects to pocket a lot of cash for the permit. Historically, hunters have paid several hundred thousand dollars for the right to harvest the massive species. But because of the attention (and notoriety) of this auction, the Dallas Safari Club expects the gavel could bang with the final bid nearing the $1 million mark. The proceeds will go straight to the Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia's Black Rhino -- where a million bucks could go a long way to help protect the species.

The second goal of the hunt is a bit more traditional. Biologists want to thin the herd. By getting rid of an older non-breeding male, hunters can make room for a younger male that has the potential to expand the herd.

"First and foremost, this is about saving the black rhino," said Ben Carter, the Dallas Safari Club executive director. "There is a biological reason for this hunt, and it's based on a fundamental premise of modern wildlife management: populations matter; individuals don't. By removing counterproductive individuals from a herd, rhino populations can actually grow."

Of course, the plan has caught more than its share of controversy. Opponents of the rhino hunt say the scheme is nothing more than a bloody way to raise money. They argue the hunter is not a conservationist; he just wants one more trophy for his wall.

Even if that is the case, it's not the hunter's motivation that matters. The result that biologists aim for is to strategically thin the herd. If they can raise money that will better help their efforts, even better.

The debate certainly won't end after next week's auction in Texas. The role that hunters play in conservation will remain controversial. But there's no doubt the hunt that will take place later this year in Africa will help a species in trouble.

It's more proof that hunters are our best conservationists.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at