A decision by South African wildlife parks to auction the right to hunt white rhinoceros has stirred up controversy, with lobby groups warning that the species is already under pressure from poachers.
A businessman in the Kwazulu-Natal region recently paid 960,150 rands (91,500 euros) for the licence to shoot a male rhinoceros in a reserve, after successfully bidding for the right from the regional nature conservation authority, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
The authority's chief Bandile Mkhize defended the decision to auction shooting rights, arguing that the decision to reduce rhino numbers was "based on sound ecological, demographic and genetic wildlife management grounds."
"We feel more than justified that we have followed defendable principles and protocols," he said.
Mkhize said reducing certain rhino males could actually enhance the population's growth rates and help to further genetic conservation.
In addition, auctioning the right to shoot "generates substantial revenues and helps provide much needed additional funding and support to effective conservation management programme as well as providing incentives for rhino specific conservation."
But while the proceeds from the auctioned hunt are to be reinvested in environment protection, anti-poaching lobby groups are up in arms against the move as they warn that poachers are already depleting South African wildlife reserves.
Simon Bloch, who represents a group of South African citizens outraged by poaching, warned that the wildlife protection authority's move "sends the wrong message to the world."
The group Stop Rhino Poaching estimates that 446 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2011, a sharp jump from the 13 lost in 2007, 83 in 2008, 122 in 2009 and 333 in 2010.
Demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine, has been blamed for the intensifying trend of rhino poaching.