Even though black rhinos are endangered, Namibian officials permit five black rhinos to be hunted each year as part of a long-term conservation effort to preserve the species.
The Dallas Safari Club is the first American organization to receive one of those permits and plans to auction it off to the highest bidder, stirring criticism from a number of conservation groups, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Sunday.
Auctioning the permit sets "a very dangerous precedent," said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States.
He says the permit creates a threat for the rhinos "since it will now encourage more Americans to travel to Africa and start killing these imperiled animals."
An online petition asking for the club to pull the permit from the auction has been signed by nearly 50,000 people. It cites the "contradiction" of killing one of the animals to save the species.
Ben Carter, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club, stands by the auction.
"This is what science and biologists have told us is the best way to ensure conservation of the rhinos."
He said officials in Namibia have already put a death sentence on a specific animal. Carter described him as an older bull that no longer breeds. He's been known to hurt other rhinos and could kill babies or breeding age males or females.
"This one that has been chosen -- a problem animal -- will be removed whether there is or isn't an auction," Carter said.
The auction will be held Jan. 11 in Dallas. Carter hopes to raise $250,000 to $1 million. Every dollar, he said, will go to Namibia for black rhino conservation.