May 27, 2021

Transcript
The Rhino Hunter

Jad: Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert: I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad: This is Radiolab, and today, a story that we've been working on for close to two years. Just before we're about to put it on the air, this happened.

Speaker 1: Our next story in perspective, it's as if someone had killed Lassie.

Robert: As you probably know, over this past summer, a Minnesota dentist named Walter Palmer paid-

Jad: 55 grand-

Robert: -to get permission to hunt and kill a lion.

Speaker 1: A lion named Cecil.

Speaker 2: An African lion considered to be a national treasure in the country of Zimbabwe.

Jad: This is a pretty famous lion, the star of that park. Had been in a few studies. Immediately there were allegations of poaching. Zimbabwe, where Cecil was killed, opened up an investigation. What really caught our eye-

Robert: Was the reaction from the public.

Speaker 2: "Lion killer," the words painted on the home of Dr. Walter Palmer.

Jad: People found out his home address, started sharing it online.

Speaker 2: Backlash, threatening his livelihood now.

Robert: Protesters gathered outside his office.

Speaker 4: Posting signs on the locked doors, branding him a coward and a killer.

Robert: He was forced to temporarily close his business.

Speaker 5: Vilified across the internet.

Jad: There were attacks all over social media and YouTube, and warning, this next minute contains some pretty strong language.

Speaker 6: "You are truly scum of the earth," wrote one.

Speaker 7: Walter fucking Palmer.

Speaker 8: Do you know how fucking demented this motherfucker is?

Speaker 9: May you fucking burn to death.

Speaker 10: I want somebody to take fucking revenge.

Speaker 11: What would happen if you were being hunted, motherfucker?

Speaker 9: Sick son of a bitch.

Jad: Today, we bring you a story that we hope will be a little bit of signal in all that noise. This is a story about the strange relationship between wanting to hunt and kill an animal and wanting to save it.

Robert: It comes from our producer, Simon Adler.

Simon: One, two, three, four, five. This story really started from the in Salt Lake City. This past February, I went to the Western hunting and conservation expo, sometimes referred to as the Super Bowl of hunting. I'm walking through this airplane hangar-sized room. It's at this massive convention center called The Salt Palace. Over 40,000 people there, gun manufacturers, there were bow makers, there were duck call makers.

Speaker 12: This one's a single reed.

Simon: Camouflage clothing, apparel companies.

Speaker 13: Well, this place is rocking and I hope you're having a good time. If you're having a good time, I want to hear a big yeehaw.

Simon: As part of the expo, off this main floor there was a banquet hall where there was an MC who was working in the crowd.

Speaker 13: Well, tonight I want to continue on a couple of thoughts that we touched on last night. Our greatest conservation president Theodore Roosevelt said the wildlife and its habitat cannot speak for itself so we must. Let me tell you, we have and we will continue to speak, but we've got to go further than speaking. We're going to have to suit up in our armor to go into battle, to protect our wildlife and our way of life. Let me tell you, we are at war brought on by the extreme radical environmental movement. If we're not vigilant and engage this enemy, the most endangered species in America could be the American hunter.

Simon: Now, one of the things that surprised me right off the bat was talking to people. Everybody kept coming back to this idea and hitting on this idea that if it weren't for us, if it weren't for the hunters-

Speaker 14: The animals would not be alive without us hunting them. They would go extinct.

Simon: I got that line over and over again.

Speaker 14: There would be no animals out there to hunt.

Simon: Basically what they mean by this is they are the ones that are paying to keep these animals around. They are the ones who are funding conservation. I saw what that looked on the final night of the expo, Saturday night, when the organizers held this auction.

Speaker 15: Now's the time to open your wallets, get out your chequebooks, your credit cards. In fact, we'll even take IOUs written on the back of a napkin.

Speaker 13: Let's make some money for wildlife, buddy.

Speaker 15: Let's do it. Our first auction items tonight, presented-

Simon: First couple of items, they were just guns,-

Speaker 15: -is an American made Ruger-

Simon: -rifles. But then-

Speaker 15: Item number three, we're going to full curl stone.

Simon: A picture of the sheep pops up on this jumbo screen up on the stage.

Speaker 14: Big stone sheep. As you can see right there, big ones.

Simon: Huge curling horns, thick Brown coat.

Speaker 14: Beautiful color. That's on the bucket list, brother. That's on the bucket list.

Simon: The winner of this auction item, what they're actually buying is the chance to go up to Canada on this very specific area and to shoot one of these sheep, to get a tag to shoot one of these sheep.

Speaker 15: I have an opening bid of $30,000. That's what I'm talking about. Let's go 32,500. 32,500 for one of the best stone units there is. I'm 32,500 down the middle. Need 35. 35,000, last call. Sold to them right over here, $35,000.

Simon: A few items later-

Speaker 15: Let's keep it rolling. We're on number six.

Simon: -a picture of a moose comes on the screen.

Speaker 14: All of you moose hunters want a great Cyrus moose.

Simon: The kind of moose that their antlers fan out like giant wings.

Speaker 15: Ladies and gentlemen, I got $10,000. Somebody give me 12,500. 12,500. 15. 17,500. 20. 22,500. 25. 30. 35. 40,000.

Jad: How does the conservation angle work?

Simon: Basically how this works is each state has an agency that's responsible for managing its wildlife. If you're a hunter, you basically have to buy a tag from that state agency in order to shoot just about any animal. For example, in Arizona, Arizona is this grid of hunting areas and you apply to a lottery for Zone B. "I would really like to be able to shoot a moose." You put your $20 in, and this was typical. If your name comes up, you get your tag for $20. I's possible that you're not going to get one, and sometimes you have to wait 10 or 20 years, especially for these big game animals.

What these agencies do, they set aside a certain number of these tags every year, which are called conservation tags. What these conservation tags are is like, "If you just give a bunch of money right now, you have free range to do what you want. Hop the line, shoot the animal you want, no waiting."

Speaker 15: $80,000, he did it. He freaking did it.

Simon: Then all that money goes back to those state agencies for land management, habitat restoration, we're talking millions of dollars that get raised this way. One auction item that I saw sold that night-

Speaker 15: Special big game enhancement package.

Simon: -which basically gave whoever wanted the right to shoot just about any animal in the entire state of New Mexico for a year.

Speaker 15: I'm 175. I'll go 80, 180. 180 now. I'm going to get 90. Sold it $230,000, ladies and gentlemen.

Simon: That's close to you.

Corey: You can do a sound fit.

Simon: I'll just do some levels. The whole reason I had come to this convention was to talk to a guy who had done an auction like this, but in his case, it blew up on him.

Corey: Honestly, did not expect to be in the position that I am today. My name is Corey Knowlton, C-O-R-E-Y K-N-O-W-L-T-O-N.

Simon: Is that how you're going to sit, or are you going to lean back?

Corey: I'll probably move around a lot.

Simon: Corey Knowlton has become the poster child of this idea of hunter conservation. He's a Texas millionaire. I met him in his hotel room right across the street from the expo. He was in a white t-shirt, blue jeans, a little bit of stubble on his face. The story goes, back in January of 2014, he was at an expo super similar to this one put on by the Dallas Safari Club.

Corey: I had my wife with me.

Simon: He was just walking the floor when he bumped into a friend of his.

Corey: Gentleman by the name of John Jackson. John Jackson heads up a group called the Conservation Force. Anyway, John came to me.

Simon: He told Corey that he was worried that the Dallas Safari Club-

Corey: They were auctioning off an opportunity to hunt a black rhino in Namibia.

Simon: The Namibian ministry of Environment and Tourism had given them one tag to hunt one black rhino and they were going to auction it off. Now, the black rhino is a critically endangered species. There are about 5,000 of them in the world, about 2,000 in Namibia. What the Namibian government does, is they auction off the older males.

Corey: What happens is the black rhino gets older, it sees other rhinos, it wants to attack them oftentimes and kill them.

Simon: The government will offer up those problem rhinos for trophy hunting and then use the money to protect the others from poachers.

Jad: Is poaching of the black rhinos is a real issue?

Simon: Huge issue. Rhino horn right now, it goes, what's the number? $60,000 a pound.

Jad: Oh my God.

Simon: It's worth three times as much as gold per ounce. In any case, Cory says, the reason that John was so worried-

Corey: John said, "Cory, there's been a giant push of people coming out against this."

Speaker 16: It's literally a license to kill.

Corey: People don't want it to happen.

Speaker 17: A permit to hunt down and kill one of the most endangered animals.

Corey: He said, "I'm really worried that we're not going to have someone to bid this minimum bid."

Simon: His friend was worried that there were going to be these Namibian ministers there. They just didn't want to be embarrassed.

Corey: John asked me, "Would you at least bid the minimum bid."

Simon: Just to get the auction rolling.

Corey: As a friend, it's somebody that I've been friends with for over a decade, I said, "Yes, I will do that."

Simon: Night of the auction.

Corey: They started this auction just like any other auction.

Simon: Eventually, Cory makes his bid-

Corey: $350,000.

Simon: -thinking that would just go to the other bidders.

Corey: That's right. I was like, "I'm going to do what I told you. I'm going to follow through with my commitment." That's when all of a sudden-

Simon: Going once, going twice.

Corey: -boom, it happens. I'm just me. I'm just Corey Knowlton. I'm just a guy that takes people hunting. Immediately, I've got people surrounding me. A giant line of people congratulating me.

Simon: He's like, "I didn't expect to be the guy who did it, but okay."

Corey: The next 48 hours-

Speaker 18: We now know who paid $350,000 for a hunting permit to kill an endangered black rhino in Namibia.

Corey: -a barrage of threats started coming.

Speaker 19: He's being bombarded with death threats.

Speaker 20: Among the thousands of postings, I hope the rhino rips you in half. Do your children know what a monster their father is? I hope you get what you deserve, a short and painful existence.

Simon: Corey says people threatened to murder his parents, to rape his wife to death.

Corey: "I'm coming to your house. I'm going to burn it down. I'm going to put your kids in a wood chipper, and I'm going to do it in front of you."

Simon: At any point in this, have you been enthralled by the idea? Have you always wanted to shoot a black rhino?

Corey: Hey, Nate?

Nate: Yes?

Corey: Now we're going to have to be quiet. I definitely haven't always wanted to shoot a black rhino. Have I always wanted to hunt? For as long as I remember, yes. I had a big journey in life. When I was born, we had literally nothing.

Simon: He told me he grew up in rural Missouri in a small house, then a trailer home. His mom raised the family. His dad loaded trucks at Safeway.

Corey: We were trying to survive as a family.

Simon: When Corey was eight-

Corey: We left Missouri in a Monte Carlo with $2,500 in the bank and a dream to make it in this world. By the time I was 15, we had moved all over the United States.

Simon: His dad picked up jobs in Arizona, Texas.

Corey: I'm going from school to school, to school. I didn't really have the benefit of getting into any sports teams or whatever. The one thing I did is I had a dad that worked his butt off every day. I didn't get to spend much time with him. Then when I'd want to go do things, "Hey dad, let's go to dove hunting. It's dove season." He loved that.

Simon: He mentioned this one time when he was 11.

Corey: We'd go out, I have a shotgun in my hand, two doves fly up and I shoot and both of them died in one shot, fell right there. I went over there, got the doves, went through cleaning them and preparing to cook them. Just being in that moment and not worrying about other problems that we all go through in life and just having a nice, quiet time with my dad. I looked at it as a privilege to go hunting. I didn't look at it like, "Hey, it's my right to go out and take some animal's life." I looked at it like, "This is an awesome opportunity I get to go spend with my dad outside." Now, as I became older, I became more interested in hunting. I wanted to learn about bows, I wanted to learn about hunting. I was ate up with it.

Simon: By the time he was in his mid-twenties, he says, and his is right around the time his dad hit it big in the oil industry, he was leading hunts all around the world.

Corey: From the North Pole to as far south as you could hunt in New Zealand.

Simon: Nepal.

Corey: Papua New Guinea. I've seen the whole world.

Simon: He says somewhere in the middle of all of those trips, he realized-

Corey: That there's a big fight out there. This large biomass of humanity is taking over the world and wildlife doesn't exist by accident anymore.

Simon: He started thinking about not just hunting these animals.

Corey: But preserving them and keeping them here.

Simon: All of which is to say when he won that auction without meaning to and started getting all those death threats, he didn't turn back. What on earth is keeping you so steadfast in going ahead and doing this? I think I would have thought, "I shouldn't have done this."

Corey: It may not have been what I had planned on, but I was willing to do this based on a commitment that I made to a friend. I made a commitment to my family. I made a commitment to conservation as a whole. This was never about me going over and taking a black rhino's life like, "Finally, I get to achieve the zenith of life in killing this black rhino." Give me a break. It was about a method of conservation to keep black rhinos on the face of this earth.

Simon: You are saying that you were doing this for conservation. Your detractors, they will say you say you are only doing it for conservation when you're really doing it for-

Corey: I did not say I was only doing it for conservation.

Simon: No, I'm not saying that's what you've said. I'm saying that this is what they will throw at you. You were saying you're only doing it for conservation. All you actually getting out of it is some sort of satisfaction. Can you talk for a minute about-

Corey: I can talk for more than a minute about it. All right, sure. I enjoy the act of hunting. Can I tell you why? Could I wrap that up in a real pretty burrito for you to be able to eat and understand and it tastes good? No. I can tell you that I care about the survival of these species.

Simon: Do you understand why people have a hard time wrapping their mind around that, you believing that and simultaneously wanting to kill an animal? Does it not compute to you at all?

Simon: At what point? We're getting redundant, they're missing the whole boat. We don't have one without the other. If we want wildlife to be around for future generations, we have to understand that that wildlife has to have a value. If it doesn't have a value, especially in the continent of Africa, it's going to be gone.

Simon: Here he made a sort of economic argument. He said you got to keep in mind that living next to a black rhino, not just talking about it, but actually living next to a black rhino, it's a nightmare.

Corey: Who wants to live next door to a raging psychopathic beast that's killing things? No one.

Simon: In just very purely economic terms, it has a negative value. What Cory will tell you and what conservation organizations like World Wildlife Fund and various others will tell you is by him paying $350,000 to shoot one, he is creating a positive value for that animal. He's creating jobs for game wardens, he's creating jobs for trackers.

Corey: You've got to look at the net benefit. It's there.

Simon: What is the common ground here? You guys want the same things and yet there's somehow this-

Corey: No, we don't want the same thing.

Simon: Conservationists in general do.

Corey: The common ground has to be, "Do you or do you not want to see black rhinos on the face of the earth?"

Simon I think everyone agrees that they do.

Corey: No, they don't.

Simon: No, I think they do.

Corey: Their actions are speaking louder than their words.

Simon: I think to a lot of people there are these neocolonial sentiments here. That you are this guy who has a lot of money, and you are paying a lot of money to go to Africa to shoot this thing. I think that causes a reaction in certain people. Do you think the amount of money plays into it or no?

Corey: I'm going to take a break for one second.

Simon: You can say you don't want to answer anything.

Corey: No, I want to give you the best possible answer. Do you understand that I'm trying?

Simon: I do get it.

Corey: I'm really trying, to an emotional level where I'm like, "God dang, man." I don't want these people get so fucking bad. I just don't know if I'm going to be able.

Simon: We can stop.

Corey: No, you don't have to stop. Just give me a second. I know that the words I put out mean something, and I don't want to do a disservice. I feel like I'm letting people down. I'm not a radical psychopath, you can see that. It's just something I believe in. I can believe in these animals and I believe that I want them here. I also understand that death is inevitable, but the death of this species doesn't have to be. I'm putting myself through this because I believe that it's right because I've seen that it's right. I'll go down and I will sit next to people in Africa, both indigenous and non-indigenous, that have the exact same belief.

They want these animals, they love them and they want their kids to see it. They know that one night when the stars are above and they're sitting there with their family and a lion roars in a distance, they feel that. They feel what it means to be afraid of it. They feel what it means to respect it. They feel what it means to love it and they want that to continue. I want that to continue in a realistic view, a realist view. I believe I have a grasp on what it takes for that to continue.

Simon: Thank you for being so honest there. I don't have any extra questions. That conversation happened over six months ago. At that point, the hunt was totally in limbo. He was still receiving death threats. Animal welfare organizations, like Humane Society of the United States, were lobbying and petitioning to try to stop the hunt. What it all really hinged on was a decision to be made by US Fish and Wildlife. Under the Endangered Species Act, it's illegal to import the carcass of an endangered species into the United States unless you can prove that by killing and importing that animal you are helping the species as a whole. That's what US Fish and Wildlife had to decide, would Corey killing and importing that one black rhino help black rhinos as a whole?

March went by. April. Then, in early May, I got a text from Corey that just read, "Let's talk tomorrow."

Jad: Coming up, we take a trip.

[drums]

Speaker 21: Pleasure. Bye-bye.

Simon: We are off the plane, walking into the airport. I suppose this would be the first time we've actually stepped foot in Namibia, the destination.

Jad: I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert: I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad: Back to our reporter, Simon Adler.

Simon: Days after getting that text message, I landed in Namibia to meet back up with Corey.

Corey: Today, we're in Windhoek, Namibia, it's the 13th of May, 2015. This is Simon's big day to interview local officials, professional hunters, and any bum on the street [chuckles] that wants to comment.

Simon: How long we've been traveling for?

Corey: Probably closer to 48 hours now.

Simon: You're feeling all right at this point?

Corey: I feel a lot better now. Just getting off the plane and feeling the wind.

Simon: The airport is tiny. We get through customs and everything, and immediately-

Henti: Simon, I'm Henti. Nice to meet you, man.

Simon: -were met by the PH, Henti Van Heerden.

Jad: The PH.

Henti: I am a professional hunter.

Simon: The professional hunter.

Henti: Requested by Corey Knowlton to assist him on his hunt.

Simon: He's sort of the manager of this entire project. Big dude, scraggly beard, short shorts.

Henti: We need to go and pick up our stuff.

Simon: He leads us out of the airport. What does the day's agenda hold for us?

Henti: Sort chaos out.

Simon: Sorting chaos out? [laughs]

Henti: Your chaos just started, my friend.

Simon: We get into his truck, start driving. Do you mind if I ask you some questions while we drive here?

Henti: Bring it on.

Simon: I immediately just realize what a headache putting all this together has been for him.

Henti: Ten million phone calls, meetings after meetings with the Minister of Environment and Tourism, head office checking with local offices.

Simon: All to help them figure out which is the best rhino for Corey to shoot.

Henti: They have their list.

Simon: At this point, do you know exactly which one you'll be going after or there are a couple?

Henti: the main place we've identified, that has two rhinos we can remove from that area.

Simon: Both male, aggressive, post-reproductive.

Henti: We're going to try to get on one of these two animals and try to remove it as professionally as we can possibly do.

Simon: We're at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. This is apparently a meet and greet. Later that day, we stopped to shake hands with the permanent secretary Simeon Ngombo.

Simeon: I want to welcome you all to Namibia.

Simon: He gave this prepared speech about how trophy hunting is a big part of why Namibia is considered the gold standard of conservation in Africa.

Simeon: This program assists us to have a wildlife growing. Previously, our wildlife was almost declining. Elephants were less than 1,000, but now we have plenty of them. We don't know where to put them in.

[laughter]

Simeon: There are 20-something thousand. There are many now.

Corey: You've been so successful that you have to deal with the surplus?

Simeon: Yes. All types of species we have here, they are growing fast.

Simon: Fast forward to the next morning.

Corey: It's 4:46 AM. I doubt that Simon nor I got any sleep last night.

Simon: Despite all that-

Corey: Someone's going to get hurt before you're through.

Simon: -he was in high spirits.

Corey: I woke up this morning, it was drizzling rain. Around the curve came a passenger train. The first thing I'm bringing down to the truck is a firearm and ammunition, big knives, and things so we can skin the rhino.

Henti: Morning, morning. How are you?

Simon: Henti was on the phone taking care of final details. Much to my chagrin, there was this crew of CNN reporters hanging around. Once everything was loaded. we took off for the airport. Should I leave you here, Corey?

Corey: Yes.

Simon: I wave them off. Happy hunting. Good luck.

Corey: Thanks, man.

Jad: You what?

Robert: What was that again?

Jad: You waved? I don't understand.

Simon: I wasn't able to go on the rhino hunt itself.

Jad: What?

Robert: What?

Simon: I know. I know.

Robert: Are you serious?

Simon: You seem disappointed.

Jad: What happened?

Simon: Number one, a hunting party can only be so large in Namibia, and with these three CNN guys there the party was just full. You also have to understand, I was in the country illegally. I had no press pass. I had no press visa. This was like, "I've got to keep my head down."

Robert: That is our fault. Are you telling me the story's over? Is that what you're basically saying?

Simon: No, don't worry. Corey's personal cameraman, he promised to give me all of his audio. We do have the audio, and we'll get to that. While they were headed up north, I actually ended up going east. Where I went, totally unexpectedly, made this model of conservation, and how it works really finally clicked into place for me. Do you mind just telling me your name and where we are?

Andre: Well, my name is Andre Swanepoel

Estelle: My name is Estelle Swanepoel.

Andre: I'm the owner of these conserves.

Estelle: I'm going to keep you company.

Simon: Sounds good.

Simon: Andre and Estelle Swanepoel own the Aru game farms, which are a series of huge swaths of land that they've fenced in. In total, they have over 200 square miles of land that actually used to be filled with cattle.

Estelle: 15, 16 years ago, we converted it into a game farm.

Simon: Basically, they decided to get rid of all the cattle and bring in all these animals. They've got giraffes, they've got two different species of zebra, wildebeests, hartebeests. In all, they've got 29 different species including--

Simon: How many black rhinos are around the property here?

Andre: Up until about three weeks ago, there were 10, and now we've got 11.

Simon: One of the hunting guides, Steph-

Steph: Steph Jubeh, at the Aru Game Lodges in Namibia.

Simon: -told me that they actually just had a rhino born on the property, and in fact, they've had several throughout the years born on this property. He took me out to find one.

Steph: We're going to look for signs and keep our eyes peeled.

Simon: What should I be looking for if I'm going to be of any help here?

Steph: On the distance, it will just look like a big gray rock. You really got to have a keen eye. [chuckles]

Simon: We're driving through this really tall, thick, grass that enveloped the car. It was almost like we're driving through a cloud.

Steph: This is the Kalahari sourgrass, it's real thick. It's almost like the mice can run on top of it.

Simon: After searching and searching and searching-

Steph: We've just spotted the rhino.

Simon: Shit. There it is, like 100 yards away. Man. Shit. It's pointing at us.

Steph: He's noticed us now. He's probably heard the vehicle. We're still at a very safe distance. I want to get us into the shade, then we can have a closer look and you can put the binoculars up and take a real good look at it.

Simon: Man. Looking through with the binoculars, and he's just pointed straight at us. His head's moving left to right, left to right.

Steph: I think this is a bull by the looks of things.

Simon: God. It looks like a dinosaur, doesn't it?

Steph: It is a very prehistoric-looking animal.

Jad: He knew you were there?

Simon: Yes. He was totally looking at us. I'm going to put the binoculars on and see. He's trotting away from us. It started moving away from us. They've got these tiny-looking legs, so when they run, they have to shuffle along.

Steph: I think if the grass wasn't there you would laugh at them for the way they move. [chuckles] It's quite comical. Very lucky to have found one.

Simon: Jesus. We were tailing behind it, and the crazy thing is this huge animal that weighs over a ton, it is on the move. They can move 30 miles per hour.

Steph: We're currently driving at about 15 kilometers an hour, and he's getting away from us.

Simon: Left us behind.

Steph: He wants nothing to do with us. He's moving off.

Simon: At one point, before it took off, we actually got close enough that with the binoculars on, Steph was able to get a good look at its ear.

Steph: The bulls that were put here initially have all got earmarks and this one doesn't actually have an earmark in it. Perhaps this one was born on this property.

Simon: How does that work? How did the rhinos get to be on this property?

Steph: The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has been in touch with the owner of Art Game Lodges.

Simon: Government said, "Hey, you've got all this land. Will you take a couple of these rhinos and protect them for us?" They said, "Sure."

Steph: Started off with a couple, three rhino, and the numbers grew.

Simon: It becomes this strange foster care-type situation.

Steph: Each year, we have to take photos of them and we build up a portfolio. Then we can send it to MET.

Simon: It's interesting that they are breeding here. There are more of them now than there would have been if they hadn't been moved here.

Steph: Exactly. Another thing, we were unlucky last year. Actually, we lost two rhinos.

Simon: Steph said he wanted to show me something, drove for about 10 minutes. Then he stopped the car at this small clearing, almost no grass, one lone tree.

Steph: An eerie feeling as to what I feel when I stumble across this place.

Simon: Man. Can you just describe what we're looking at right here?

Steph: Bones scattered all over the red sand of the Kalahari.

Simon: Bleach white bones against red, red sand.

Steph: See a female. We can see some bulls' spine as well.

Simon: Is that a rhino skull?

Steph: Yes. The sheer size of it is just unreal.

Simon: Wow.

Steph: You see that there?

Simon: We got out of the car and actually held these bones.

Steph: Oh, God.

Simon: Wow. How did that happen?

Steph: It was a dominant bull and was fighting with a younger bull.

Simon: The two squared off and the older one ended up goring the younger one with its horn, or at least we think.

Steph: Unfortunately, the young bull passed away.

Simon: It killed it?

Steph: Yes.

Simon: Then there's this older bull that had just killed the younger one, Stef told me it then went up to this female.

Steph: It wanted to reproduce and the young female wasn't ready. She wasn't mature enough yet.

Simon: He kept forcing himself on her over and over.

Steph: Until she couldn't any longer. I guess it would happen in nature as well. It's just unfortunate that it had to be here. They would have been even more but nature took its course, we didn't get involved, so it is.

Simon: Steph explained to me that it was these type of black rhinos, these older aggressive bulls that get auctioned up for guys like Corey to come over and shoot.

Steph: Then all the money that's been paid for it is all going back into anti-poaching units, it's going back into conserving rhinos. It's nice to see such a large sum of money coming in for a good cause.

Simon: He believes in this program.

Steph: Personally, I'd never be able to shoot a black rhino. I don't know.

Simon: What about you personally wouldn't shoot a rhino?

Steph: For me, I can't really explain why. I don't know. It's difficult to say, but no, it doesn't tickle me.

Simon: Over the next couple of days at the lodge, as I was hanging out with these tourists from all over the world who had come here to be wined and dined and then go out and shoot stuff in the morning and afternoon, Steph's ambivalence started to make a deep sense.

Steph: Tommy, Tommy, Tommy.

Simon: For instance, I spent a lot of time with this guy.

Stefan: Stefan Lindström. I'm from Sweden.

Simon: Middle-aged there with his family on vacation.

Stefan: We decided six years ago that we will go to Africa, so I'm very happy to be here today.

Simon: This is six years in the making for you?

Stefan: Yes. You can say so.

Simon: He works in Volvo's corporate office and he's a big trophy hunter.

Stefan: Maybe I can show you some picture from my home.

Simon: Do you have lots on the wall already?

Stefan: At home, it's 40, and at the camp, we have at least 50 more.

Simon: I got to follow him on a few hunts, him and his guide.

Panjamas: My name is Panjamas Skriva. Skriva is my surname.

Simon: In one of the hunts, we spent about two and a half hours searching for different animals, stalking different animals, and then in the distance-

Panjamas: We saw a very nice waterbuck bull there?

Simon: -we finally found a waterbuck.

Jad: Which is what?

Simon: It's like a reindeer but it has these two big long horns that shoot backwards almost like spears. Big animal.

Panjamas: Yes, big animal. I guess do not know how old he is, so we're just going to close and see.

Simon: We hopped down from the car and just started slowly moving towards it through the grass.

Stefan: This type of animal is the top for me this holiday.

Simon: Stefan told me he had a list of animals he was hoping to shoot and this was at the top of his.

Stefan: He's such a beautiful big animal, that's why.

Simon: The game lodge charges $2,800 to shoot one.

Panjamas: Again, the waterbuck is just this side. Let's go and see.

Simon: At the moment, there's light wind. We're walking through shin-length grass. There are shrubs to the left and the right. Every 10 minutes, we've stopped to measure how far away it was.

Stefan: It's about 600 meters. I think we'll take about twenty minutes to go rather close to them.

Panjamas: Just wait.

Simon: Eventually, we got just a couple of hundred feet away from the animal source. In the distance is just pacing. Pan pulls out this tripod, sets it up and Stefan gets into position.

Stefan: He's towing behind. He's towing behind. Stop. Stop. Please stop.

[gunshot]

Stefan: That's the right one?

Panjamas: Yes.

Simon: The buck stumbled a few paces.

Panjamas: He's down.

Simon: Falls down, but then it gets right back up and stumbles forward.

Panjamas: Put another bullet in.

Stefan: No need.

Panjamas: There's one in?

Stefan: Yes, that's good.

Simon: The first shot didn't kill it.

Stefan: We needed to shoot rather high because there was a lot of grass.

Simon: At this point, Pan seems tense.

Stefan: He doesn't like that, I think.

Simon: He knows that the animal is suffering. The dog takes off, runs after it, and just keeps it at bay by circling it and we start moving towards it.

Panjamas: Let's go closer.

Stefan: [unintelligible 00:37:13].

Panjamas: Just wait. Just wait. Relax, relax, relax. Go slowly.

[gunshot]

Simon: Again, second shot doesn't kill it. Falls down, gets back up, fall down again.

Stefan: It's down. It's down. Shit.

Panjamas: Just relax. Relax.

Simon: It's writhing in the grass. Pan now seemed pretty upset.

Panjamas: I don't know where you shot it the first time?

Stefan: Rather high.

Panjamas: He's looking at the right.

[gunshot]

Simon: The third shot doesn't kill it.

Panjamas: Let's wait.

Stefan: Fuck. Shit. This is not fun. This is not fun.

Panjamas: Shoot him in the neck.

Stefan: I will try.

[gunshot]

Simon: Finally, fourth shot. It goes limp.

Stefan: Damn. There was so many shots.

Simon: It's lying on the ground. Its leg is still kicking a little bit, but it's done.

Stefan: It's so nice.

Panjamas: It is.

Stefan: I am so happy. I'm so happy. This was the top of the list for me this weekend, so this hunt is perfect. This is very nice feelings.

Simon: Seeing it up close it can be emotionally difficult, but when you pan out, it's pretty clear. The numbers show that this Namibian model is working. Wildlife numbers on private land have gone up by almost 80% since the government allowed people to buy, sell, and shoot wildlife on their land. Since trophy hunting of the black rhino was legalized, that population has grown by like 30%. Not all African conservationists are onboard. I talked to a guy named Richard Leakey, super famous anthropologist who also directed Kenya's wildlife program for a while. I asked, "What is your stance on this idea of sustainable use of wildlife?"

Richard: Listen to me, I think it's utterly ridiculous. If a father can't afford to pay school fees for his children, does he say to somebody, "You can rape my daughter so I can get the money to pay for her school fees?" I think we've got to set some standards in life. I think this is nonsense, what this argument is about. Killing wild animals so that they can be looked after absolutely sends the wrong message.

Simon: This was the big issue he took with Namibia's strategy.

Richard: Yes, you can afford to lose five rhinos from a breeding perspective, but does that send the right message?

Simon: He then told me a story about when he took over Kenya's Wildlife Service in 1989. At the time things were dire.

Richard: Elephants were being killed at an alarming number, and we were going to lose our elephants totally.

Simon: Poaching was on the rise and his predecessors had actually confiscated a huge number of elephant tusks from these poachers.

Richard: 12 tons. If you saw it, you'd have thought, "That's a lot of ivory."

Simon: They recommended to him, "Sell this ivory, make about $3 million, and then use that money to help fight poaching," but Leakey said, "No." What he did instead was, he built a giant tower out of that ivory.

Richard: Set fire to it.

Speaker 22: Millions of dollars in ivory taken by poachers, burned.

Speaker 23: More than 12 tons of contraband elephant tusks.

Speaker 24: 12 tons of illegally poached ivory of worth several million dollars.

Richard: It burned for three days. It got to television, it got newspaper, it got magazine, it got radio.

Simon: It was this massive PR stunt to draw the world's attention to the plight of elephants. Part of what he was saying in that was we have to value these things beyond their dollar value. We have to respect the intrinsic value of these creatures.

Jad: Wait a second, if you're burning a bunch of ivory, aren't you in effect increasing the value of the ivory because now there's just less of it out there?

Simon: Well, you're looking at the supply end of it. Yes, by reducing supply that would push up price. Leakey was attacking the demand side.

Richard: What an impact it had around the world. Opinion changed overnight.

Simon: He said it woke the public up. People stopped buying ivory and the market for ivory, it just crashed.

Richard: Up to that time, we'd been losing about 3,500 elephants to 4,000 elephants a year. A year later, we were losing at most 60.

Simon: Really?

Richard: It had an enormous impact, my friend. Getting a public that supports conservation of wildlife, that's a huge challenge and we just can't afford, I think, to send out the wrong messages.

Simon: The problem with that is, finding the right message is getting harder and harder. I called various conservation organizations and one guy who I talked to told me that their average age of donor is getting older, more and more people are just living in cities, less people are having positive experiences in the natural world at a young age. He said that they're going to have to continue focusing on people, focusing on us, this message of what does wildlife give us? What does it do for people?

Corey: This is our third day up in the area. Still no luck but we're just going to keep at it.

Simon: Back in Namibia. After three days of bushwhacking through this dense vegetation up in the north of the country, Corey and his crew finally got on the tracks of the right rhino.

Corey: The local guy says we found a rhino that had killed another rhino that had killed another rhino. We're going to follow this one, make100% sure that it's the right one and then we'll try to take it if we can.

Simon: For the next couple hours, they track the animal looking for, basically, footprints. Anywhere that it'd marked its territory.

Corey: We've been tracking this for probably a couple of hours now. We've bumped into it at least twice. We had walked at this point just about 12 miles. It was very hot. You can see how thick it is right here, pretty intense.

Simon: The grass was so thick that they really couldn't see more than about 30 feet in front of them. Eventually, they find-

Corey: You can see this is the rhino's.

Simon: -a pile of rhino feces that's still warm.

Corey: Still very moist. This means we're not more than an hour behind that animal. Right there, and you can see the dung beetles and everything in it.

Henti: This animal is already angry.

Corey: We sat there for a few minutes and gathered our thoughts.

Heni: Not a single down this thing.

Corey: You line it out, we're going to do what you say. Then-

Simon: About two hours later.

Corey: -I heard some noise from my left. All I see is a running beast with a giant saber on its head.

[gunshot]

Corey: It was like lightning.

[gunshots]

Jad: He also didn't get it with thee first shot?

Simon: The first several shots did not kill this thing. It ran off and then they had to start tracking it again.

Robert: Was it just wounded?

Corey: Yes. We followed it I would say 10 minutes, I don't know. I looked over there, I saw it.

Simon: Was it lying down at this point?

Corey: It was standing up, but it had already fallen down twice. It was dying and then [gunshots] I shot it a few more times. The last thing you do is once you're really assured it's dead, you touch its eye and if it doesn't blink, it's gone.

Robert: Did you go touch its eye?

Corey: Absolutely.

Robert: In a moment like that, is there a conversation going on now that the animal is dead and you're not?

Corey: No. We just looked at everybody, looked at each other, made sure we were okay. There wasn't a whole lot of talk right then in this case, but it was an emotional moment for me. The meat, we've been sitting here skinning this animal so far this morning and now we're about to roll it over, skin the other side. Then just take the quarters off, just like any other animal that you would, if you were on a hunting trip.

Hunters: Let's go, one, two, three.

Simon: They loaded up all the meat to be shipped off to a local village and they kept a little bit of it for themselves.

Corey: Cooking my first piece of black rhino meat here on the coals next to the carcass. Right here is the moment when everybody here has started eating some of this black rhino. It's just a part of hunting and a part of being a human. It's a pretty unique and awesome moment right here.

Robert: I'm not really morally outraged by it, maybe I'm a little, but I think you might be vulnerable if you insist that your enthusiasm for hunting is part of the balance of nature. I think it's perfectly-

Corey: Robert, you don't have those canine teeth for eating salad. I understand that people don't like it any more than they wouldn't like going and killing the lamb of the lamb chops they eat but that doesn't mean that it's wrong. Hunting, it's part of who we are. Now, it may be a bigger part of who I am than you are, and that's fine, but when wildlife populations abound is when they're managed by human beings.

Robert: The alternate model might be a view of humans that's different from yours. I think you assume that because we are smart, and because there are so many of us, that inevitably we will bump into them and when we do, we will win. Thus your calculations. The alternate model might be that because we are smart, we might create a space where we won't bump into them.

Corey: Now you're not in a real world, we're dealing not in reality. I'm living in a world that matters and that's real. It's not a dream scenario and it's not saying, "Let's just create this." Unfortunately, these animals don't have that time. I'm not trying to outsmart anybody, it's just a traditional method that's worked. Until somebody comes up with a methodology that we could look at and say, "This is a better way," I'm going to continue to fight and believe in the traditional model. Now, we're going to ask ourselves these questions. How do we really on an individual basis value these animals' survival on earth? Do you really value it?

Do you value it past making 75 characters into your iPhone and tweeting about it? Do you value it past watching Animal Planet? To me, I know and I care, and I placed an extreme value financially, physically, emotionally on the survival of the black rhino.

[music]

Jad: Reporter and producer, Simon Adler. We had a considerable production support for this piece from Matthew Kielty, who also contributed some original music. Special thanks to Chris Weaver, Ian Wallace, Mark Barrow, Ryan Tarbet, the Lindstrom family and everyone at the Aru Game Lodge in Namibia. We also want to take a moment right now to say-

Robert: Yes we do.

Jad: -goodbye and good luck to our dear, dear, dear longtime collaborator, Ellen Horne.

Robert: She's been with Radiolab longer than me. I remember when you were bringing her on, but we were still having breakfast.

Jad: You and I were just about to work together. She was the first person I brought in as an intern and then hired, and then she became the executive producer.

Robert: If you've been to any of the tours, she made those tours happen. If you've seen us on stage, she made the stage things happen when we were on the tours.

Jad: She's just been that third partner from the beginning. Now she takes her awesomeness to audible.com and we think they made a smart move.

Robert: You should watch your ears because they're about to get another blast of beauty from her on some other source somehow. That's good because the world can only use more.

Jad: Absolutely. We are so proud and happy and grateful and we love you, Ellen.

 

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New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.

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