Conservation hunt? Corey Knowlton paid $350K to kill endangered black rhino

WATCH: CNN was on hand when Knowlton killed the rare animal. Knowlton claims this was a “conservation hunt” and will only help the survival of the species.

There is no shortage of online vitriol being lobbed at Texas millionaire and celebrity game hunter Corey Knowlton after he cashed in on his chance to kill a rare black rhinoceros in Namibia.

Knowlton paid $350,000 to kill the endangered beast, but he says it’s because he’s “hell-bent on protecting” the animal and the money from his successful bid to take part in the “conservation hunt” will go to Namibian government efforts to protect the species — of which there are only an estimated 5,000 left in the world, nearly 2,000 of them in Namibia — and stop poaching.

According to CNN, who sent a reporter to document Knowlton’s hunt, the 36-year-old won the permit at a Dallas Safari Club auction in January 2014. It was the very first time the Namibian government had issued a permit to hunt the black rhino.

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Knowlton said he was “emotional” after the kill and wiped his eye.

“I felt like from Day 1 it was benefitting the black rhino and I’ll feel that till the day I die,” said Knowlton, and oil industry heir whose father Lary D. Knowlton is the co-founder and executive vice president of BASA Resources Inc.

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Rhinoceros poaching in Namibia and neighbouring South Africa reached record levels last year and 2015 appears on track to be even worse.

In South Africa, where the white rhinoceros is under threat from poachers trying to meet demand for rhino horn in Asian markets, 1,215 rhinos were killed last year — 200 more than 2013 — according to the South African government.

So far this year, there has been an 18 per cent bump in the number of rhinos slaughtered in South Africa — 393 killed in the first four months of 2015, compared to 331 during the same period in 2014, The Guardian reported South African Environment Minister Edna Molewa saying on May 11.

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READ MORE: Conservationists warn that poaching of African elephants remains severe

A report published by the Council on Foreign Relations indicated Namibia has also seen an increase in rhinoceros poaching this year, with 60 rhinos killed between January and April, compared to 24 during the same month last year.

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The male black rhino Knowlton hunted down was reportedly a threat to the herd and had previously killed another rhino.

After he gunned down the bull with a high-powered rifle on Monday, Knowlton transported the carcass to a nearby village — which CNN’s Ed Lavendra described as “devastatingly poor” — to distribute the meat to the local population. They appeared to celebrate the arrival of the truck carrying the animal.

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But none of this is sitting well with conservation groups or animal rights proponents.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare expressed its sadness over the killing, with North America Regional Director Jeff Flocken saying he felt it was “incredulous” that Knowlton thinks he’s helping protect the species.

“If you pay to take a human life and give to humanitarian causes, it does not make you a humanitarian. And paying money to kill one of the last iconic animals on earth does not make you a conservationist,” he said in a statement.

Speaking out against the so-called conservation hunt, actor and animal rights activist Ricky Gervais used his Twitter account to condemn Knowlton and trophy hunters.

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(WARNING: The post below contains language some may find offensive)

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Gervais recently got into a war of words with another U.S. big game hunter, Rebecca Francis — whose photo with a giraffe she killed in 2010 set off a social media firestorm.

READ MORE: Hunter Rebecca Francis on giraffe hunt uproar: ‘I do not regret it for one second’

Conservationist and Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson called the hunt “delusional” in a post on his Facebook page and said it was an “ecological crime.”

“The logic is so peversely [sic] bizarre that it could only come from a man who has more money than heart, who not only lacks empathy but seems to be completely devoid of common sense,” Watson wrote.

Others on social media also shared their disgust at Knowlton’s hunt and in some cases suggested he should pay a different price for his kill.

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Knowlton, since winning the bid for the permit to hunt the black rhinoceros, has been subject to death threats and reportedly hired security for his protection.

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