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Can hunting endangered animals save the species?

Can hunting endangered animals save the species? 13:39

(CBS News) The scimitar horned oryx, the addax, the dama gazelle -- three elegant desert antelope that you'd hope to see on a journey through Africa, except that their numbers are dwindling there. Which is why Lara Logan went to Texas -- yes, Texas. There, on large grassland ranches, some exotic species that are endangered in the wild have been brought back in large numbers. But there's a catch: a percentage of the herd is hunted every year by hunters who pay big money for a big catch. The ranchers say this limited "culling" gives them the money they need to care for the animals and conserve the species. But animal rights activists don't buy that argument, claiming the hunts are "canned" and that hunting is wholly inconsistent with conservancy.

The following script is from "Big Game Hunting" which originally aired on Jan. 29, 2012 and was rebroadcast on June 10, 2012 . Lara Logan is the correspondent. Max McClellan, producer.

Where can you find some of the best big game hunting in the world? As we first reported in January, it's a place that may surprise you. Tonight, we're going to take you on a journey into a world that many people don't even know exists.

To get the best view, we flew by helicopter over this vast terrain. From the air, we could see herds of African antelope and zebra charging across the wide open spaces. It looks remarkably like Africa, but it's not. This is Texas.

Here in the Lone Star State the iconic Texas longhorn now shares the range with more than a quarter million animals from Asia, Africa, Europe. Today, Texas has more exotic wildlife than any other place on earth.

Lara Logan: How many exotics do you have in Texas?

Charly Seale: I think our last count there's like 125 different species here in Texas.

Charly Seale is a fourth generation rancher and the executive director of the Exotic Wildlife Association based here in the heart of the Texas hill country. It's his job to represent the interests of some 5,000 exotic ranchers across North America.

Logan: So would you say Texas has the most non-native species of animals?

Seale: Oh, yes, absolutely.

It all began more than half a century ago with surplus animals from zoos. These images were filmed on Texas ranches back in 1975. The ranchers liked the novelty of these strange animals on their properties. But what started as a curiosity has evolved into a major achievement in wildlife conservation, by helping to bring back three African antelope from the brink of extinction, according to Charly Seale.

Seale: Our members own more numbers of rare and endangered species than any other association in the world. Three of our biggest successes have been the scimitar horned oryx, the addax and the dama gazelle. Our numbers have absolutely just skyrocketed in the last, last 15-20 years.

Logan: So, these animals are thriving in Texas while they're still endangered or extinct in their native lands?

Seale: Yes.

Logan: So are they still endangered in your view?

Seale: Absolutely not, not in Texas.

How did thousands of Texas ranches become home to the largest population of exotic animals on earth?

It's thanks to trophy hunters like Paul, who come here in the thousands to hunt these animals every year, sold on the idea of an African hunting experience in Texas. It's open season on close to 100 species of exotic game all the time here because exotic animals are considered private property. Paul allowed us to come with him as he went on this hunt if we agreed to use only his first name.

[Paul: I've been looking forward to this hunt for several months now and I'm just pumped.]

Here, he and a guide are searching for a scimitar horned oryx for him to take home as a trophy. If they find one, it'll cost Paul $4,500. Other animals, like this dama gazelle, cost around $10,000. And the rarest, a cape buffalo, has a $50,000 price tag. Exotic wildlife has become a billion dollar industry in Texas supporting more than 14,000 jobs.

For two days, Paul and his guide searched this 30,000 acre ranch just two hours outside San Antonio for an oryx, but they didn't find any. Animal rights groups accuse the ranchers of making the hunts too easy, but that's not what we witnessed in this case. Six months later, we met up with Paul when he came back to try his luck again on another ranch.

We were curious to know whether it bothered him that the animal he was hunting is officially extinct in the wild.

Logan: Do you care about this species? Do you care if this species goes extinct?

Paul: Oh yes I do.

Logan: Why do you want to kill them?

Paul: The money that I spend to hunt these animals keeps these animals alive on these ranches.

You may be surprised to learn that the U.S. government agrees with that. For years it's allowed the scimitar horned oryx and two other endangered antelope to be hunted on U.S. soil. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that "hunting...provides an economic incentive for...ranchers to continue to breed these species," and that "hunting...reduces the threat of the species' extinction."

On ranches like this, they say they don't allow more than 10 percent of a herd to be hunted per year. After six hours, Paul and his guide have finally spotted some oryx. They were about 150 yards away, and they thought they had found a suitable target. He got ready to take a shot.

[Paul: Okay, is that the one, Are you sure?]

Paul hit the target with one bullet.

Seale: Hunters are the, are the main conservationists in this whole equation.

Logan: Can you call yourselves conservationists when your purpose, your intent, the thing that's driving it is to hunt the animals and to kill them?

Seale: Absolutely. That's, that's why these animals thrive it's because of that, that value that they have to the hunting community.

Logan: You know, just because people are willing to pay large amounts of money for those trophies doesn't make it right.

Seale: I can't let these animals just freely roam around my ranch. I can't do it. I won't do it.

Logan: Do you love these animals?

Seale: Absolutely.

Logan: How can you kill something you love?

Seale: I can do that for the simple reason that I know it's for the welfare of every one of those animals, you sacrifice one so that many more are born and raised from calves all the way up to the big trophy male or the big trophy females that we have.

Priscilla Feral: I think that's ludicrous. I think it's immoral. And I don't think anybody's entitled to do that.

Priscilla Feral is president of Friends of Animals, an international animal rights organization. For the past seven years, she's been fighting in court to stop these rare African antelope from being hunted in Texas.

Feral: They're breeding these antelopes, they're selling the antelopes, and they're killing the antelopes. And they're calling it conserving them. They are saying it's an act of conservation and that's lunacy.

Logan: You would rather they did not exist in Texas at all?

Feral: I don't want to see them on hunting ranches. I don't want to see them dismembered. I don't want to see their value in body parts. I think it's obscene. I don't think you create a life to shoot it.

Seale: Our biggest enemy are the animal rights people. They don't understand what we do.

Logan: What's to understand, I mean, you're hunters? You hunt these exotic animals. That's pretty simple.

Seale: It is, but there are a faction of people out there that would just as soon see these animals go extinct as to have us use them for sp- to hunt and after all, that is the bottom line. That's what these animals are all about. That's why they are here in the numbers that they're here today.

[David Bamberger: You're at the first place that this, this is where it all began.]

83-year-old Texan David Bamberger has spent more than 30 years fighting to save one of these antelope, the scimitar horned oryx, from extinction. He brought us to where it all began, in this small pasture which he calls the Sahara on his 5,500 acre ranch.

Bamberger: Here they go!

Logan: Look at that, they're beautiful. Oh, look at the babies in the front.

You almost have to remind yourself that this is not Africa. It's Johnson City, Texas. This beautiful animal has horns that can grow as long as four feet and resemble the curved blade of a scimitar. It's believed by some to have inspired the myth of the unicorn.

Bamberger: They tell me it's the only African antelope known to be able to kill a lion.

They vanished decades ago from the deserts of Egypt, Senegal, Chad - all the places where they first walked the Earth more than two million years ago.

Bamberger: They wouldn't be here and alive if we hadn't taken some action 30 years ago.

In the late 1970s, Bamberger offered to devote more than 600 acres of his property to save an endangered animal at his own expense. American zoos sent him nearly all of the remaining known genetic stock of scimitar horned oryx in the world and from that he raised hundreds of animals. He's since sent some to African reserves for eventual reintroduction into the wild, but he believes the best hope to sustain the species today lies on the Texas range.

Bamberger: I've got ranchers that I started them out on with half a dozen animals that got 200 now.

Logan: But if you're a conservationist, and you've given up your land, you've given up thousands, millions of dollars to save this species. Yet you're not against hunting them?

Bamberger: Well, I wouldn't do it here. I'm not fond of it at all, but I'm wise enough, smart enough to know if there's no incentive, if altruism is the only incentive you're not gonna get a great deal of participation on someone whose livelihood depends on bringing in dollars.

[Logan: You'd think you were in Africa, look at the giraffe sitting there]

We turned to one of the world's top conservationists, Pat Condy, who lives in Texas, to find out what he thought.

Pat Condy: That's the scimitar horned oryx. Altogether, on different ranches, many different ranches, there are somewhere between six and 10 thousand of these animals.

Pat Condy has devoted his life to saving animals and he showed us around the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center outside of Dallas which he runs. It's a world leader in breeding rare and endangered animals.

And it's also a place where tourists can get closer to these beautiful creatures than they ever could in the wild.

Logan: Do you think that Texas ranches are saving animals from extinction?

Condy: There's no question about it, that they are.

Logan: What gives you the confidence to say what you're saying?

Condy: What gives me the confidence is when you look at the numbers, the animal numbers, okay, and you see that they're not declining, that they're either stable or growing.

Logan: The numbers, you can't argue with that?

Condy: When you're talking about conservation, it's the numbers that are the bottom line.

But for Priscilla Feral, the bottom line is that these animals should not be hunted. She's helped create a reserve in Senegal for 175 orxy and in court, she's winning the legal battle she's been fighting for years to stop them from being hunted in the U.S.

In April, a new rule issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took effect, making it a crime to hunt the scimitar horned oryx -- and two other endangered antelope -- without a federal permit. Texas ranchers are challenging the new rule in court.

Seale: Just since the announcement of that rule the value of those animals has probably dropped in half. You've got to understand, I'm a rancher to make a profit, just like any business.

Logan: How does this rule change affect that?

Seale: I will say that in five years you'll see half the numbers that you see today. And I would venture to guess in 10 years they'll be virtually none of 'em left.

Feral: The future for oryxes is Africa. It's not Texas.

Logan: Can the future not be both? Don't they have a greater chance of survival the more of them there are?

Feral: In their native lands.

Logan: Regardless of where they are?

Feral: I don't think you can say regardless of where they are. A Texas hunting ranch is not the same as being in a reserve in Senegal.

Condy: Put the hunting aspect to one side, and take a 50,000 foot view over this, this resource of a species that is extinct in the wild is going to disappear now from Texas, slowly but surely.

Logan: So who's winning the day here?

Condy: I don't think anybody's winning the day. One thing is for sure, they are losing it. Those species are losing it.

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