Armed with a high-powered 500 Nitro Express rifle and a CNN camera crew, Texan Corey Knowlton ended his three-day trek through the dusty plains of Namibia by doing what he had travelled over 8,000 miles to do: shoot and kill a black rhino.
Knowlton paid $350,000 in an auction for the right to travel to Africa and bag the endangered species. According to Knowlton, the preselected rhino was a male well past breeding age, who had attacked and killed other members of the herd. Not only does Knowlton claim his kill will protect the other animals, he also believes it will raise awareness for the remaining 5,000 black rhinos, 2,000 of which live in Namibia. The rhinos are actively sought by poachers for their valuable horns, which are traditionally believed to possess medicinal qualities.
"At this point, the whole world knows about this hunt and I think it's extremely important that people know it's going down the right way, in the most scientific way that it can possibly happen," Knowlton said after arriving in Africa.
Although Knowlton has been the focus of intense outrage since the hunt was announced last year, there are advocates for what is labeled "conservation hunting," in which hunters purchase the rights to kill an animal and the monies from the kill are directed toward conservation efforts. In Knowlton's case, his $350,000 will reportedly be used to hire about 3,000 field rangers to enforce existing regulations and protect the black rhinos from further poaching.
"I felt like from day one it was something benefiting the black rhino," Knowlton reflected just moments after the hunt ended. "Being on this hunt, with the amount of criticism it brought and the amount of praise it brought from both sides, I don't think it could have brought more awareness to the black rhino."
The rhino was killed on May 18th. The next morning, Knowlton and a small group of guides returned to the bush and field-dressed the nearly 3,000-pound rhino, removing large slabs of meat concealed beneath the animal's 2-inch thick hide.
The meat was then loaded onto a truck and taken to a nearby village, where it was gratefully accepted amidst singing and celebration.
"It's probably the most awesome part of what it means to be a hunter and a provider," Knowlton told CNN. "This whole village is going to live off this rhino meat for a while, so it means the world to me to see this right now."
Animal rights advocates do not share his enthusiasm.
"Killing endangered wildlife to save it is just wrong," says Jeffrey Flocken, North American Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, in an article for CNN.
"It does not make sense morally, economically, biologically, or from a conservation-incentive point of view. It is a philosophy that has no place in modern conservation."