$350,000 to Kill a Rhino? What's It Worth to Spare It?

"The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason." --T.S. Eliot

Many words have flooded the Internet over last weekend's auction by the Dallas Safari Club of a permit that will allow a well-heeled hunter to kill one of the few remaining black rhinoceroses in Namibia. Many of those words, particularly those posted by others on the Facebook page of Corey Knowlton, the professional hunter who may have won the auction with a $350,000 bid, are variations of the word "penis" and "small." "Scum" is pretty popular too.

See also: Dallas Safari Club's Black Rhino Permit Sold for Much Less Than Expected

We say "may" because the club isn't naming the winner, and Knowlton was identified in another hunter's tweet. (We've left messages.) There's speculation online about whether Knowlton made the bid for himself or someone else. Considering the heat from the commenters on his Facebook page -- wishes that he die and burn in hell -- the man must have skin thicker than a rhino's.

The auction has its supporters, who point out that the rhino due for a bullet, named "Ronnie" by authorities to give this story extra pathos, is past breeding age and aggressive, and the money from the auction -- far less than the $1 million the club hoped for -- will go to conserve the species.

"Compassion for animals is an unappreciated commonality between hunters and non-hunters," Dallas Morning News op-ed columnist Gordon Keith wrote in defense of the hunt. "But compassion uncoupled from reason is destructive."

Compassion uncoupled from reason is also a way to describe God's grace, but Keith's point is, we think, that there are hard choices to be made about how to conserve the animals, and hunters and anti-hunters should respect the fact that they both cherish nature. That's a nice argument that entirely misses the point: What matters here is not compassion and understanding but passion and taste, and strangely the Facebook Army has it right: If you pay a load of money to travel far to shoot an old, one-horned bull minding its own business, NO MATTER WHAT THE MONEY GOES FOR, you look like a real dick.

It's a lot of money? You still look like a dick. Culling is an accepted way to improve a herd? Maybe, but still dickish in appearance.

Buzz doesn't hunt, but we don't object to other people doing it. Many people do, though, and it's impossible to weigh the proper balance between perception and reality, emotion and reason roiling their Facebook-posting souls. That's why it's better to tread carefully and be respectful of the heart when you're doing things like setting up an auction to kill an endangered species. Extravagant amounts of money + shooting Ronnie = really awful PR, and that doesn't do the cause of hunting or conservation any good. Motives matter, and at least part of the motive in this hunt is the pleasure someone's going to get plugging ol' Ronnie. That's just bad taste.

Maybe, in an act of grace, whoever claims the right to shoot Ronnie could find a way to spare him.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams