David Reinke

David Reinke 

David K. Reinke says he’s committed to saving the endangered black rhinoceros.

So the Madison businessman traveled to Namibia, where he contributed about $200,000 to a trust fund there — and shot and killed a black rhino.

Reinke said killing the rhino, a 34-year-old sterile male that he shot with a .375 H&H Magnum rifle, actually helped the species, of which only about 4,000 are left in the wild, by reducing fighting injuries and deaths among male rhinos and encouraging rhino reproduction.

“This is a scientific issue,” Reinke said in an interview. “Don’t forget, the important thing here is to save the rhino.”

Reinke, president and CEO of Liberty Parts Team, a Madison printer parts wholesale company, is the first American in more than 30 years allowed to import a black rhino trophy. That’s put him at the center of an international controversy over trophy hunting and endangered species, and what role — if any — rhino and other big-game hunting can play in conservation efforts.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision this spring to grant Reinke a permit to import the rhino, which he killed in 2009, has enraged some animal rights and animal advocacy organizations. The Humane Society of the United States, for example, said the move sets a dangerous precedent, one that will push black rhinos closer to the brink of extinction and encourage American hunters to shoot these and other endangered animals — like cheetahs — then try to plead their case to federal authorities in hopes of bringing their trophies home.

“These trophy hunters love killing, but they do it for bragging rights,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “It’s only a selfish and self-interested person who shoots one of the biggest, rarest and most remarkable animals in the world for bragging rights, pushing that species one step closer to extinction.”

But in its statement announcing that Reinke’s permit had been issued, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services said it made its decision “after an extensive review of Namibia’s black rhino conservation program, in recognition of the role that well-managed, limited sport hunting plays in contributing to the long-term survival and recovery of the black rhino” in that country.

“The Service cannot and will not allow the importation of sport-hunted trophies of species protected under the Endangered Species Act — unless a comprehensive review determines that those trophies are taken as part of a well-managed conservation program that enhances the long-term survival of the species,” the agency said in a March 28 statement announcing its decision.

It also noted Reinke’s contribution to Namibia’s Game Products Trust Fund, which helps to fund conservation and management efforts, and called the southern African country a leader in rhino conservation efforts.

Reinke, who has donated thousands of dollars to Republican political candidates including Gov. Scott Walker but considers himself an independent, praised the Obama administration’s decision. He said many of the groups criticizing his permit claim to raise awareness about endangered species but are “not saving rhinos.”

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Peter Thormählen of Thormählen & Cochran Safaris, the group that organized Reinke’s hunt, had no comment.

But an organization named Conservation Force, which has spent about four years helping Reinke get his permit so he could bring home the trophy, argues the decision will be a precedent-setting boost for efforts to protect endangered species.

“Mostly it’s significant for rhino conservation,” said John Jackson of Conservation Force. “It will help support anti-poaching efforts.”

Jackson said Conservation Force is a nonprofit, charitable organization that is “using hunting as a tool to conserve species.” And the group’s website describes itself as “a force for wildlife conservation, wild places and our way of life.”

World Wildlife Fund, a leading wildlife conservation group, said it also supported the federal government’s decision to allow Reinke to import the trophy.

“When rhinos, or other species, are harvested from communal conservancies in Namibia, a portion of the revenue goes to the conservancy from which the animal originated,” Matt Lewis, WWF African species expert, said in a statement. “This lucrative financial return conveys the value of rhinos to the community, thereby providing incentives for effective wildlife management, anti-poaching efforts, and for greater resources to be allocated toward these goals.”

Lewis said WWF recognizes trophy hunting is controversial.

“It is rarely the preferred option,” he said. “But we do have to work within the realities and challenges of conservation on the ground.”

Reinke said he believes he helped protect the species by killing the sterile male rhino but added that he has also helped other rhinos survive — including a baby white rhino he described rescuing from a warthog hole in South Africa. He said he spent several thousand dollars to make sure it was nursed back to health and believes it is now in a zoo.

As for the rhino that Reinke killed, he said he donated all of the meat to local people to eat and hopes others will be able to see the trophy in the U.S.

“It should go to a museum,” Reinke said. “It’s very historic.”

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