Trophy Hunter Seeks to Import Parts of Rare Rhino He Paid $400,000 to Kill

A Michigan trophy hunter who paid $400,000 to kill a rare black rhinoceros in Africa in 2018 is seeking a federal permit to allow him to import its skin, skull and horns to the United States, according to government records.

The hunter, Chris D. Peyerk of Shelby Township, Mich., applied in April for the permit, which is required by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. Under the Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to import trophies of endangered species unless it’s determined that doing so would help the survival of the species.

Mr. Peyerk paid a Namibian wildlife conservation organization for the opportunity to shoot and kill a black rhino bull in May 2018 in Mangetti National Park in Namibia. The 29-year-old rhino was interfering with breeding by younger bulls and harming population growth, according to documents from Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

Mr. Peyerk’s payment was to be earmarked for rhino conservation and the rhino’s meat was distributed to rural communities surrounding the park, the ministry said.

About 5,500 black rhinos remain in the wild and are considered a critically endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Nearly half are in Namibia, which is allowed under international convention to permit five male rhinos a year to be legally killed by hunters.

“Legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” Laury Parramore, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, told The Associated Press.

Mr. Peyerk was represented by John J. Jackson III, a Louisiana lawyer who provides free legal help to trophy hunters, including others who have been granted this permit in the past, through a nonprofit group called Conservation Force, The A.P. reported.

Mr. Jackson is also a past president of Safari Club International, a trophy hunting group that has lobbied the Trump administration to loosen import restrictions.

“Regulated hunting has been the cornerstone and most important conservation development in the 20th century,” the Conservation Force website said.

Neither Mr. Peyerk nor Mr. Jackson responded to phone calls and emails seeking comment on Sunday.

For more than three decades, federal regulators did not issue import permits for black rhinos until the Obama administration issued three starting in 2013 as their population rebounded in Africa with stricter conservation management.

The Trump administration issued two — in 2017 and 2018 — and Mr. Peyerk’s, if approved, would be its third.

Though President Trump in a 2017 tweet called trophy hunting a “horror show,” his administration has reversed Obama-era restrictions on the import of endangered elephant and lion trophies from several African countries. Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, the president’s sons, have hunted big game and photos from a 2012 hunting trip drew criticism.

The Fish and Wildlife Service notified the Humane Society of the United States last week that it plans to approve Mr. Peyerk’s permit application, Kitty Block, the organization’s president and chief executive, said.

That news was met with criticism from animal rights and conservation groups.

“The Trump administration has dealt another blow to wildlife protection,” Sara Amundson, the president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said in a statement.

The number of black rhinos may have increased in recent years but poaching has also increased, said Ms. Block, who is also the chief executive of Humane Society International. Before 2014, there were no reports of black rhino poaching but within two years, there were 80, she said.

“With rhino poaching on the rise, now is the time to ensure that every living black rhino remains safe in the wild,” Ms. Block said in a statement. “Black rhinos must be off limits to trophy hunters.”

Poaching is the main threat to black rhinos, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Rhino horn is sold on the black market for use in traditional Chinese medicine and as a status symbol.

“We urge our federal government to end this pay-to-slay scheme that delivers critically endangered rhino trophies to wealthy Americans while dealing a devastating blow to rhino conservation,” Ms. Block said.

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