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Rhino Hunting Permit Sparks Protest In Dallas

Dallas (CBS 11 News) - Dozens of people gathered in protest outside the Dallas Convention Center Saturday night, where an auction took place for the permit to hunt an endangered rhino species.

The Dallas Safari Club held its annual convention, with the marquee event as a live auction. Over a thousand people pre-registered, and had the option to bid on a permit to hunt one black rhino on a safari in Namibia.

The Namibian government only issues five permits each year to hunt the black rhino, and Dallas Safari Club organizers say this may be the first time they've allowed a permit to be auctioned off in the U.S.

The Dallas Safari Club hoped to draw $1 million from the sale of the permit, but the winning bid went for $350,000.

Now the highest bidder will hunt the endangered species in Namibia's Mangetti National Park, according to the Dallas Safari Club.

All of the money will go to a special fund used by the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, which provides anti-poaching, habitat protection and research money.

The whopping $350,000 bid is a record for the black rhino permit; the previous record sale price was $223,000.

The club says the auction and hunt are endorsed by three global wildlife authorities, one of which is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Scientists estimate 4,000 black rhino are alive in the wild today.

Less than 2,000 wild black rhino exist in Namibia, a country twice the size of Texas, with just 2.5 million people.

The club the says that science shows selective hunting of older, post-breeding bulls helps the endangered population grow. Often times, the older, aggressive bulls kill younger, breeding bulls.

So when it comes time for the hunt, the Namibian government will supervise to make sure the target is an older male rhino. If the hunter is successful, the meat will be taken to a nearby community.

"With hunting as part of its conservation program, Namibia's rhino population is growing as much as five percent annually," a press release from the Dallas Safari Club states.

But not everyone agrees with the club's auctioning of the permit.

"If people are really interested in conservation and keeping [rhinos] alive, why don't they use their money, their wealth in more productive ways other than killing a rhino. It doesn't make sense," said Patti Weston, who drove from Louisiana to Dallas to join the protest.

Outrage over the hunt of the endangered species led  to a backlash from animal activists and some wildlife groups.

The FBI was also called to investigate threats made against members of the Dallas Safari Club, including the club's executive director Ben Carter.

"I just don't think they know the facts. I think people are making an emotional decision on that and not hearing the science," Carter said.

Bob Lott is a bird hunter attending the convention, but says he would not hunt the endangered rhino.

"It'd be like somebody wanting to kill our eagles. We'd say no. We don't even kill eagles when they're wounded or whatever. We don't make a spectacle out of it," Lott said.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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