In early 2014, the Dallas Safari Club, a Texas-based hunting outfit, came up with an unconventional idea for protecting the critically endangered African black rhino: Auction a permit to shoot one and donate the money for conservation.
An international furor followed, pitting pro-trophy-hunting groups and wildlife conservation advocates against each other.
One side pointed out that the targeted rhino was an old male well past reproductive age. The other side argued that killing endangered animals for sport—even to raise funds for conservation causes—sends a contradictory message.
Namibia, the country that offered the permit to shoot the rhino, is largely a conservation success story. But that has more to do with community-based ecotourism, a model that has shown that a living rhino can generate more income for conservation than one-off payments for dead ones.
There are only about 5,000 black rhinos left in the world; these beasts are just steps away from extinction.
What are enlightened travelers to do?
My take: Hunting has its place, but not where the crosshairs are fixed on an endangered species.
Pack a camera and track a rhino on foot with a local community guide. Not only is it an exhilarating wildlife experience, but the rhino gets to live.
This piece was written by National Geographic Traveler Editor at Large Costas Christ, and appeared in the magazine’s June/July 2014 issue. Follow Costas on Twitter @CostasChrist.