After two animal welfare groups recently requested the U.S. government block Lacy Harber’s request to import the carcass of a black rhinoceros he shot and killed in Africa last year, the Texoma businessman and hunter said his hunt likely saved several of the critically endangered animals.
The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International released a joint statement last Friday in which they said permitting hunters to kill black rhinos would only drive the species closer toward extinction. But Harber, 81, said the rhino he killed in Namibia in February 2017 was an aging male who had been kicked out his heard and had fatally attacked a number of other black rhinos.
“He had turned into a rogue rhino and the Namibian game department had documented that he had killed two females and three babies,” Harber said. “But they had no money to move him off by himself somewhere. They’re very poor.”
Harber said he paid the Namibian government $275,000 for a permit to kill the animal through an auction hosted by the Dallas Safari Club in December 2016. He said the Namibian government had contacted the hunting club and discussed the problem with the rhinoceros. Harber said he was convinced to bid on the permit by a representative of the pro-hunting organization Conservation Force, who he also described as an adviser to the Namibian government. Harber also said he understood the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would green light the import of the animal if the permit sold for at least $250,000.
“I didn’t want that permit,” Harber said. “I knew there was going to be a lot of controversy about it, but I did that to save the black rhino.”
Trophy hunting critics have called on the federal agency to block the import of the carcass and said allowing hunters to kill any black rhinoceros only drives the species closer to extinction.
“We call on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to support the conservation of critically endangered black rhinos by keeping them alive, and not permitting trophy hunters to kill them and import gruesome ‘prizes’ into the United States,” Masha Kalinina, international trade policy specialist at Humane Society International, said in the group’s statement. “Allowing trophy hunters to kill black rhinos will take a severe toll on their populations, already under immense pressure from poaching.”
Harber, who owns the Harber Wildlife Museum in Sherman and formerly owned the American Bank of Texas institutions, said he, his two personal hunting guides and a host of Namibian game personnel spent three days hunting the rhinoceros before making the kill. Once Harber had taken the animal, he said, 4,500 pounds of meat was harvested and “distributed to needy families.” Harber said he also donated an additional $20,000 to Namibian anti-poaching efforts.
“Now, in Namibia, I am a national hero,” Harber said. “The Namibian government gave me a medallion and they also gave me documents (saying) where I had contributed … above and beyond what anybody else in the world had ever done to help save the black rhino.”
A message seeking comment from the Embassy of Namibia in Washington, D.C. was not immediately returned Monday. The Humane Society statement said fewer than 5,500 black rhinos remain in the wild and less than 2,000 are found in Namibia.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has opened a 30-day, public comment period on Harber’s request to import the carcass. Harber said he had no issue with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s handling of the matter and did not regret his decision to take the rhino. He did, however, say that many big game hunting critics were hypocritical in their opposition.
“These people that are sitting back, hollering, ‘Don’t kill,’ they’re wearing leather belts and leather shoes and eating hamburgers for dinner,” Harber said.
With several weeks left before for the public comment period ceases on Feb. 5, Harber said he was hopeful that he would be allowed to import the rhinoceros. He said he planned to spend roughly $100,000 to have the carcass processed and displayed in his museum for visitors and students to see. Harber said he and his wife have hunted and killed the majority of the animals on display in the museum and have made more than 50 trips to Africa.
“If you don’t have a use for an animal, if it has no value, it’ll just disappear,” Harber said.