FORT WORTH, Texas — The Dallas Safari Club knows how to bring in the new year with a bang.
On Jan. 11, a rare permit to hunt and kill an endangered black rhino will be sold in Dallas to the highest bidder.
As the organization moves forward with the auction to raise as much as $1 million to help preserve the near-extinct double-horned rhinoceros, worldwide attention — and outrage over the plan to allow the killing of one animal to save the waning species — is focused on the effort.
"There has been a wide range of reaction," said Ben Carter, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club. "There's a lot of people out there, frankly, that are totally without any knowledge of how wildlife and conservation works.
"We've gotten emails, phone calls," he said. "One email said, 'If you auction off a permit to kill a rhino, we are going to kill you and your family.' "
But Carter said he and others know that selling the permit —the first to be sold in the United States allowing the hunting of one black rhino in Namibia — could make a better future for the critically endangered animals.
"This is a great opportunity to do something we are all going to be proud about," Carter said. "It would be a terrible travesty to not have black rhinos roaming in their natural habitat. We hope they'll be around for a long time to come."
Conservationists agree but say there must be a better way to save a species than to allow one of the herd to be hunted and killed.
"Issuing this permit is a threat to rhinos, since it will now encourage more Americans to travel to Africa and start killing these imperiled animals," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. "It is also a very dangerous precedent.
"We have to wonder whether the federal government will start issuing permits for trophies of other critically endangered species, such as the cheetah, just because American hunters desire their heads and hides as wall hangings," he said. "Where will this stop?"
The black rhinoceros, once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, has had its population drop sharply since the 1960s.
Now there are only about 5,000 — and many of those, nearly 1,800, are in Namibia, a southern African country that borders the Atlantic Ocean.
The black rhino, as well as its white counterpart, is hunted by poachers for its horns, which are highly valued for medicinal and therapeutic purposes and can be sold on the international black market for anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000.
In recent years, more than 1,600 white and black rhinos have been slaughtered for their horns.
Namibia's government allows five black rhinos to be hunted each year as part of a conservation program geared to boost the long-term survival of the species, federal officials say.
This year, officials decided to let the Dallas Safari Club, which has worked with Namibian officials for years on conservation, auction one of those permits to raise money.
Carter said the permit could sell for anywhere between $250,000 and $1 million — and 100 percent of the money raised will go to Namibia for black rhino conservation.
The idea of allowing one black rhino to be taken to help save the others isn't new.
"The removal of limited numbers of males has been shown to stimulate population growth in some areas," according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Removing specific individuals from a population can result in reduced male fighting, shorter calving intervals and reduced juvenile mortality."
All known black rhinos in Namibia have been given ear notches to identify them, which "makes it possible for the Namibian government to select specific individuals for culling based on age, reproductive status and other factors that may contribute to the overall health of the population," according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The winner of the permit — if he or she uses it — would hunt the animal in the Mangetti National Park in Namibia with a guide and officials who would indicate which of the black rhinos it is acceptable to kill.
"This is what is recommended," Carter said. "This is what science and biologists have told us is the best way to ensure conservation of the rhinos."
The chosen rhino will be an older bull, one that no longer breeds. And it will be known to hurt others in the group, one that could kill babies, breeding males and female rhinos of any age.
"This one that has been chosen — a problem animal — will be removed whether there is or isn't an auction," Carter said. "This is an opportunity to raise a lot of money for something that will happen no matter what."
The permit will be sold during the club's convention and sporting expo next month at the Dallas Convention Center.