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Why We Need Compassionate Conservation

A black rhino and a giraffe stop for a drink in Namibia's Etosha National Park. Only about 5,000 black rhinos remain in the world.
Frans Lanting
A black rhino and a giraffe stop for a drink in Namibia's Etosha National Park. Only about 5,000 black rhinos remain in the world.

Over the weekend someone at an auction in the United States paid $350,000 for a permit to kill a black rhino in Namibia. Black rhinos are endangered: only about 5,000 are still alive in the entire world.

Ben Carter of the Dallas Safari Club, where the auction was organized and held, told NPR in December that hunting is sometimes used as an effective conservation measure:

This is one way to raise a lot of money at one time. That can make a huge impact on the future of the species.

But this reasoning represents a stunning failure of the imagination. I'm confident that a committee of conservationists, with one hour's work, could come up with 10 good ideas for how to raise $350,000 that doesn't involve killing an endangered animal.

As Marc Bekoff said yesterday over at Psychology Today:

Compasssionate 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.

So, would bidders at the high-profile Dallas event have paid $350,000 to refuse the hunting permit, or to accept it and rip it up, then travel to Namibia for an endangered-animal photo safari?

I'd wager yes. I only wish we'd had a chance to find out.

You can keep up with what Barbara is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Barbara J. King is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. She is a Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. With a long-standing research interest in primate behavior and human evolution, King has studied baboon foraging in Kenya and gorilla and bonobo communication at captive facilities in the United States.

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