Can hunting endangered animals save the species?

Some exotic animal species that are endangered in Africa are thriving on ranches in Texas, where a limited number are hunted for a high price. Ranchers say they need the income to care for the rest of the herd. Animal rights activists want the hunting to end.

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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 aired on Jan. 29, 2012 at 7 p.m. ET/PT. Lara Logan is the correspondent. Max McClellan, producer.

Where can you find some of the best big game hunting in the world? 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.

Logan: It's amazing that you had this really dramatic change in the Texas landscape going on almost unnoticed by the rest of the country.

Seale: A lot of folks have noticed it. But it's been a well-kept secret.

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.