Controversy surrounds Dallas Safari Club convention

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As the Dallas Safari Club holds its annual convention this weekend, it's in the middle of a controversy involving a North Texas hunter.

Denison billionaire Lacy Harber paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in a safari club auction for a permit to hunt a black rhino in Namibia and now wants to bring it to the U.S. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, there are just over 5,000 black rhinos in the wild.

Animal rights activists were out at the convention protesting Friday afternoon. They argue the practice of hunting endangered animals is cruel and unnecessary.

But conservationists say the money raised from the hunts actually goes towards helping to grow the species population.

Cheryl Amanda drove from her home in Crowley to protest outside the safari club convention. She and others oppose the killing of animals like the black rhino.

According to a permit filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Harber paid $275,000 in an auction with the Dallas Safari Club to hunt a black rhino in Namibia last year. Harber wants to bring that rhino home.

“Bringing back corpses from another country is disgusting, on the one hand, and totally unnecessary on the other,” Amanda said.

But an attorney for Harber says the rhino is not critically endangered and the population is growing every year thanks to conservation efforts funded by money paid by hunters like Harber.

“They have over 3,000 rangers in private lands to protect the rhino,” explained John Jackson, Harber’s attorney. “And somebody's gotta pay for it.”

Jackson is also the chairman of the Conservation Force and is defending his client's right to hunt.

“Hunts do two things: they get rid of bad rhino, this particular rhino had killed seven others, and increase the population growth rate,” the attorney said. “You do that by getting younger bulls in there and eliminating bulls that are killing others.”

The Dallas Safari Club says money raised from hunting goes towards efforts to conserve and also to fight poaching.

“We fund projects for needed research to better understand life requisites of certain species so that they can be more sustainably managed and conserved,” explained Corey Mason with the safari club.

Conservationists also argue they need to intervene in order to protect the species, but animal rights activists disagree.

“They can fund conservation efforts in ways that are life-affirming and that help animals to survive,” Amanda said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue taking public comments on this issue until February 5. At last check, nearly 300 comments had already been submitted — many against allowing the hunter to take the black rhino back into the U.S.

Harber’s attorney says they expect a decision shortly after that within the next 45 to 50 days.